The value of positive stories

Woman on ComputerLeaders spend most of their time either casting vision or solving problems.  Casting vision involves sharing a positive vision of the future for your ministry even though you haven’t got there yet.  Solving problems means taking a weakness in your ministry and looking for a solution even though it means dealing with negatives.  So telling positive stories from your ministry reminds people of the positive elements that they have already accomplished.

People can’t spend all their time living in the future or dealing with problems.  Our volunteers in ministry need to be constantly reminded that all their hard work and effort is achieving something.  Sharing positive stories helps to remind people of the things the ministry has already achieved in a hope that more success will come in the future.  Positive stories can remind people serving in your ministry why they do what they do. 

Several times a year you should hold celebration nights where people in your ministry share their positive stories with each other.  There is nothing better than hearing people share a story in their own unique way.  Get each person to share a story from their perspective which not only gives a different perspective on the ministry but it also helps you get to know their style and personality. 

So here are five questions to ask at your celebration nights to draw out positive stories from any group:

  1. What are the highlights from our ministry?
  2. When did we have a win? ask people to articulate how they think they have achieved part of the vision.
  3. What have you learnt?  Focus on what you will do better in the future rather than the mistakes of the past.
  4. Who are we proud of?
  5. When did you see someone grow?  This is perhaps the most important question because it is others centred.

In my 20 years of ministry I have witness many times of celebration where people have shared their positive stories.  A few times have been whilst at a conference and our team have shared what we think we are doing right based on the speakers at the conference.  Often the positive stories come out over a meal when the ministry team have more time together.  The best celebration night I have ever been to involve everyone dressing up for a night of awards and storytelling; the night provided an hour of “open mic” time for people to share their stories.

The difficult in ministry is that we get so busy that we forget to share the positive stories until it is someone’s farewell party.  We forget to thank our team members until they leave.  Or we wait until the end of the year Christmas party to thank people for their hard work.  Wouldn’t it be great if we thanked people and shared the positive stories from our ministry once a month?  Imagine how much momentum it would build if we shared the positive stories a lot more than we reflected on the struggles.

So make a commitment to share the good news of your ministry within your church, after all we are meant to be people of the Good News.

How do I get my Senior Pastor to understand my vision?

It seems that many youth pastors or youth ministry coordinators wish that the senior leaders in their church would have a better understanding of the needs and vision of the youth in their church.  In fact a common complaint in youth ministry is a “lack of support” from the church council or board of elders.  As I read many youth ministry books it is a topic that has been around for decades.  So what is my response to the question:

“How do I get my Senior Pastor/Vicar or Parish Priest to understand my vision for the Youth Ministry?”

Before I get into my answer I want to share the answer of three “mega-church” youth pastors who have now become Senior Pastors.  A few years ago I was attending the youth ministry forum at a conference where this question was put to three famous “mega-church” Youth Pastors:

  • Judah Smith had just taken over from his father at City Church in Seattle after running a youth ministry that was reported to have over 2000 members.
  • Phil Dooley had just started the Capetown Campus of the Hillsong church after running a youth ministry that was reported to have 5000 youth across three campuses in Sydney.
  • Carl Lentz had just started the New York campus of the Hillsong church after running a very successful youth and young adult ministry in Florida.

When this question was put to the three of them sitting on stage in front of 250 youth ministry workers, most of us were hoping for a little support.  In fact they gave the opposite view, that there should be no separate youth ministry vision.  Judah Smith stated that it was the job of the youth ministry leaders to implement the overall vision of the church in the youth ministry.  Judah said that he told his father, who was the senior pastor, don’t try to make the vision sound “youthy” that is our job.  These three leaders all suggested that the youth ministry should try to understand the senior leaders vision for their church.

Now you might think that these three leaders are in a league of their own so their statements don’t apply to you.  But how many youth would be “big enough” to have a separate vision for the youth ministry?  One could argue that having a youth ministry of over 2000 people could be big enough to have a unique vision but it may lead the youth ministry to drift away from the rest of the church.  If however you want your youth ministry to be part of the church then why not adopt the vision of the church you wish to be a part of.  If 2000 people was not “big enough” for these three leaders to have a separate vision then why is 20-50 youth be “enough” to have a separate vision?

In my opinion the youth ministry and the young adult ministry should serve the rest of the church by sharing and supporting the vision and mission of their church.  So here are a few tips to help you deal with this question in your situation:

  1. Talk to your Senior Pastor/Vicar/Parish Priest – help him understand the ideas that you have for the youth ministry and work with him to fit them into the vision and mission of your church.
  2. Get involved with the Church Board/Council/Elders – don’t wait until the vision is set in stone to have your say in the formation of the strategic direction.  Attend meetings and put youth issues on the agenda, don’t wait to be asked for your opinion.
  3. Raise your concerns or thoughts behind close doors and support the vision publicly – once you have had your say then support the team.  Remember it is not your ministry but the ministry of your church so support the senior leaders in public.
  4. Help young people understand the vision – use the vision and mission statement of your church in your ministry.  Perhaps you need a few youth relevant images or stories but don’t change the meaning of the mission and vision.

To put things into perspective for most of us (i.e those who are not “mega-church” youth pastors) check out this great blog post 10 easy steps to make your pastor love student ministry by Benjamin Kerns at Average Youth Ministry.

And for those who might say “isn’t the Bible our vision and mission statement?”, yes it is but you only have to check out the thousands of mission and vision statements on church websites to see why this is an issue.

How have you worked with the leadership in your church to align the vision and mission of the youth ministry with the rest of your church?  Please leave a comment

You need disagreement in a team

Disagreement can strengthen a team if it is about the mission not about the people. 

There was a time in my ministry career where I was offering a particular church an internship program that included a free trip to Europe to pass on to their volunteers as an incentive or reward and this particular church rejected the offer.  It was difficult for me to understand how they could reject an offer that was free, all it cost them was some mentoring time and administration.  From my perspective it was the “right thing” but from their perspective it was not “free”, it was extra work.

Whilst this disagreement was difficult at first, it was the best thing in the long run.  From my perspective I had to rethink how I was selling the idea and from the perspective of the church they had to rethink why they rejected the idea.  After much thought I was able to understand the concerns of the church and answer their concerns.  Together we were able to run the program in their church which was a great outcome.

Sometimes in ministry we go to great lengths to avoid disagreement because we think that is the Christian way.  But what if disagreement helped strengthen our ministries?  What if we could give and take a little bit to strengthen an idea or event?  Perhaps we need to have people around us that disagree with us as leaders so that we can grow stronger.

Here a three reasons we need people who are prepared to disagree with you in your ministry team:

  1. Much of the world disagrees with us – sometimes we get so enclosed in our ministry bubble that we forget that many people disagree with the church.  We can surround ourselves with people that think and act like us to the point that we think we are doing perfectly.  Yet Jesus called us in Matthew 28 to reach all the nations, not just the ones that agree with us.  When we realise that much of the world disagrees with us, we learn to contextualise the Good News.
  2. It builds stronger relationships – when we learn to push each other and ask for clarification it can strengthen the bonds of friendship.  When people go through difficult times together it strengthens their relationship.  The great organisations allow healthy disagreement so they strengthen the team.  It is reported that Steve Jobs (Apple inc.) rejected the packaging design for one of the products Apple was about to launch.  When the designers simplified the packaging Steve Jobs liked it and that simple style became part of the Apple branding.  Disagreement can strengthen a team if it is about the mission not about the people.
  3. It makes you a better leader – if you create a culture as a leader where everyone has to agree with you then you might loose some of your best team members.  People on a team want to believe that their idea can be heard and implemented, even if it is not the idea of the top leader.  Generation Y are especially concerned that their ideas have a chance of being implemented.  You will be a better leader if you can surround yourself with people who will agree and disagree with you.

A final word of warning; there can’t be total disagreement in a team if you want to be successful in your mission.  Every team needs to unify for the mission at some point.  Many successful ministry teams have specific creative meetings to brainstorm ideas where disagreement is allowed then once the idea is defined then all members must unify; agree to agree on the final outcome.

Please post a comment on how you have been strengthened by some disagreement in your ministry.