On a recent Thursday night, our worship team was about halfway through our rehearsal for an upcoming Sunday morning service. Somebody cracked a really funny joke which led to a series of back and forth comments and pretty soon I had that sinking feeling that I was losing control of the situation. This has happened on more than one occasion. Ironically, I think what started to get things focused once again was the comment I made, “Okay guys, this is a little bit like herding cats.” Actually, sometimes I think herding cats would be easier.
Obviously keeping your team focused can be quite a challenge from time to time, but the bigger issue when it comes to building and leading creative teams is this: how do you keep a large and diverse group of people focused, engaged, passionate, and encouraged in your ministry?
Like it or not, that’s a big part of your job. As the leader, you the lead encourager. If you’ve been doing ministry for a number of years like I have now, you’ve seen people move in and out of your ministry and your church, some burn out quickly, while others stay the course and serve for years and years. What can you, as a leader of creative teams, do to encourage and nurture your team members to help them reach their full potential and serve in your ministry area with joy and purpose?
Now that I have led creative teams just about as long as I have volunteered on them, I think I may have learned a few things along the way (mostly by making mistakes) and from serving on both sides of that equation. So here are a few nuggets I have found that I think encourage my team members, and I hope these will benefit yours too.
Make people a priority over programs
Yeah I know… you’ve probably heard that one before, but this is a gravity well, an occupational hazard that’s so easy to fall into, especially when you’re on the Sunday treadmill. It’s important to think about the relational residue you leave behind with the people on your team. Do they feel like they are valued above the task you are attempting to accomplish, or do they feel like they are a means to an end?
Praise in public, discipline in private
Take every opportunity to publicly celebrate wins and give high fives when your team or a team member does a great job and knocks it out of the park. On the other hand, if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed with someone (especially a relational/behavioral issue), take the time to deal with it (preferably in person) 1:1 with them. Insofar as you can avoid it, try not to deal with the issue in front of other team members. And never say anything negative about a team member to another team member(s). This creates an unsafe environment and folks will be wondering what you say about them when they’re not around.
Take the time to connect with your team members
Go grab a meal or a coffee with your team members, help them with a project (like moving), get them involved with special projects in the ministry, invest as much 1:1 time with them as you can spare, and ask them for their input on projects, goals, and creative elements like ideas for songs and other new material. Get to know what their passions are & what makes them tick. Make rehearsals and time spent together as fun as possible, humor really goes a long way. The true meaning of fellowship is, “doing life together,” and your ministry team can often become a place of tremendous social support for your members, but like it or not, you are the one who sets the precedent and creates the atmosphere that allows for that.
The team that prays together stays together
Sorry about the cliché, but this one is huge. Just about every rehearsal our worship team takes the time to pray with and for each other. Yes, it does take more valuable rehearsal time to pray together, but it is time very well spent. Team members open up and share with each other and get invested in each others’ lives when they pray for one another, and this really pays off big dividends for your team in how you worship and work together.
Value and protect your team members’ time!
When it comes to communicating respect for your team’s time, the devil is in the details, so be as detailed as possible. Make sure that you over-communicate with your team so they feel prepared to do the job you’re asking them to. Make sure rehearsals, services, and events start and end on time and do everything you can to minimize your volunteers’ waiting times. Make sure you equip them with the right tools for the job – be sure that your charts, mp3s, service flows, etc. are all correct and posted as early as possible so they can feel well prepared. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by my team members how much they appreciate how organized our ministry is. I think what they’re really saying is, “thank you for respecting my time.” For example, I know as a volunteer how frustrating and discouraging it can be to invest time in practicing something that’s in the wrong key, gets significantly changed or cut altogether. This happens every once in a while and can’t be helped sometimes, but when it’s a pattern, your volunteers will stop investing their time in practicing/preparing, and that’s a problem because the quality of worship will suffer.
Confidence goes hand in hand with morale for your team members, and it is gained through experience. Make sure that you invest the time you need to in your team members so they have the training, experience, and confidence to do the job you’ve asked them to. This starts with a solid audition/interview where you assess their skill level, knowledge, passion, and motivation for being involved with your ministry team. Getting the right people involved is so important. Next comes training and building up their skill base. Some people will need little investment here, but others will need a whole lot more time and effort. But there is no greater thrill than watching someone on your team blossom when given the opportunity to turn a talent into a gift that really edifies the entire body. The final stage is turning people lose to train and build up others. This is where your ministry begins to multiply and that’s where the real fun starts.
Be a vision-caster
Where there is no vision, the people perish – Prov. 29:18
This one is last on my list, but in a “last shall be first” kind of way, it is actually first. Your job as the leader of your team is to keep the vision in front of your team at all times. Remember that your people’s vision tank leaks and so you have to refill it regularly. Remind them at regular intervals why your team is doing what you’re doing and why it matters. Help them to understand the reason why you’re doing things the way you’re doing them. Build consensus among your team by getting their input and building widespread buy-in as you create the vision for your ministry and its goals. There is nothing that encourages like a clear vision.
Schedule your own time to draw from Him
Be sure to nurture and protect your relationship with your main source of encouragement, Jesus. It’s way too easy to replace your relationship with Him with serving Him. How can you encourage those you lead if you aren’t encouraged yourself? Let Jesus be the source you draw from to encourage those around you, His well is far deeper than yours.
I hope these suggestions encourage you and give you some more ideas to encourage those you lead, even if it does feel like herding cats sometimes!