Volunteer Leadership Tips: Using winning sports strategies to build a championship volunteer team.
Some ministries work like a track and field team — lots of specialists doing their own thing with competence. One person’s success doesn’t necessarily depend on the help of another. Other teams operate like a professional bicycling team. Everyone pulls together to make the star look great. Lance Armstrong may’ve won
the Tour de France, but it took a team of other guys willing to work for him to make it happen.
Personally, I hope my ministry team functions like a football team. Like ministry, football can sometimes be a little brutal, but for a football team to be successful, everyone must work together on the same play and on the same count. Everyone moves in the same direction.
And when it works, it’s a beautiful thing to watch and a beautiful thing to be a part of.
When I moved into a new ministry position a few years ago, I was ready for team ministry; I just wasn’t playing the same game as everyone else on the field. Needless to say, my first season with my new team was painful. By learning the following winning strategies, though, we’ve finally moved into championship seasons.
Before a player signs with a team, he or she wants to know something about the team’s philosophy. Does the team like to throw the ball more or run with it? Do they like to blitz? Are they willing to take a big risk for a big score, or do they prefer the long, steady drive approach?
The mission is clear: Win! How winning is accomplished is different for every team. To be a successful player takes more than talent. It takes understanding the mission and style of the team.
With your team, let all your players know what kind of team they’re joining when you recruit them. Have a clear mission statement, and develop a set of core values for your ministry. Let your team know what your ministry non-negotiables are. Talk openly and often about what you do and don’t do, and why. There are many great ways to do children’s ministry. Not all of them will line up with what you hope to accomplish at your church. Do what you do with a purpose, and don’t do what you don’t do if it doesn’t line up with your mission, vision, and values.
I don’t remember the name of a single center or left tackle from my youth. Big name players such as Boomer, Deon, Emmitt, and Elway wouldn’t be famous, though, if not for many players who never even touched the ball or made the highlight film. These players just work for the good of the team — day in and day out.
For team ministry to work, you must convey the importance of every player on the team. For example, we have a wonderful ministry partner who comes in the middle of the week to make copies and put things in their place for our elementary program. That weekly act of service goes unnoticed most of the time, but we’d have (even more) chaos on Sunday morning if she didn’t serve us this way. We have many people who “only” sit and rock babies or “only” have a handful of kids for a small group. A handful of people take the handoff and get the applause, but every single player on the team is part of something special. Something holy. That’s the “only” way we can win.
Taking a Knee
For optimum performance, the professionals know you can’t be great at everything, and rest is vital for good performance. I think the point for ministry is clear. Fill ministry positions based on gifts, graces, talents, and likes and dislikes– not simply on availability. And give ministry partners breaks. Give time off even when it’s not asked for. As important as it is for kids to see familiar faces every week, your team members’ health is equally important for the long-term effectiveness of your team. Every player needs to “take a knee” occasionally.
Football special teams are players who show up for one play and then are on the sidelines again. Oh, but that one play! Something special is about to happen! They may return a kickoff to position the regular players for an easy touchdown. Special team players spend a lot of time on the sidelines, but they’re ready at a moment’s notice to step up to the task.
We see special teams at our church in a wonderful way in late July or early August — vacation Bible school! Last summer more than 200 special teams players came out for training and then transformed our church into a miniature world where kids were spellbound for a week. Children came face to face with God, then things got cleaned up, and the special teams players left the field for our regulars. There are many other places where one-time or short-time ministry happens. These are great places to recruit those partners who maybe can’t be there every week but still have a lot to contribute.
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While playing sandlot ball as a child, the most sophisticated play we had was “first run this way and then run that way.” But we still huddled up to plan the next play. On the college and professional levels, the information passed along in the huddle goes a lot deeper. Not only are the plays more complicated, but players pass on vital tips about opposing players that could help the team. The huddle also gives players a chance to connect with one another.
Many times players hold hands in the huddle as a way of connecting and showing solidarity.
Don’t neglect huddle time for your team. Talk, pray, laugh, and cry together. As a coach, this time can be valuable for many reasons, not the least of which is so you know when to have a player take a knee. Huddle times help your players see that they really are part of a team and that you care about them. Without huddles, team members are much more likely to feel as if they’re being used to fill a gap and aren’t a vital part of the team.
Modern professional sports teams have a huge number of plays they must memorize for each game. Players study and dog-ear their playbooks and often refer to them as their “bible.” We also have a playbook, which when studied and dog-eared, will be the single biggest tool for our team. Let’s be sure everyone stays familiar with our Bible.
Some think it’s just for show; many don’t understand it; but I always enjoy the camera shots of midfield after a game. Almost always, there’s a gathering of Christians from both teams who meet in the middle to pray. Your team will cause everyone to sit back in awe when they see you praying together.
The third string nose tackle who never gets in the game or even once gets his name mentioned on television all season still gets a Super Bowl ring if his team goes all the way. When you celebrate and congratulate, don’t leave anyone out. Include anyone who played a part in your victory, no matter what part they played. Remember those who are on the sidelines cheering you on, too.
The best teams have coaches who know their players’ strengths and weaknesses, and those coaches motivate their players to use their gifts. Great coaches don’t beg or manipulate. When it’s time to take credit, they give it away, and when it’s time to cast blame, they take it upon themselves. They shine the spotlight on others.
Tim Miller is a children’s minister in Hamburg, New York.
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