Serving a congregation as a church educator and/or youth ministry leader is easy, right? All you do is prepare for Sunday programs and then show up to lead them, right? I’m being facetious, of course. Anyone who is familiar with ministry in a local congregation understands that whenever people are involved, many more hours are needed in order to support individuals, maintain effective communication, and stay current on the best resources available.
So what does a congregation need to do in order to support its church educator and/or youth ministry leader to serve the church most effectively? Here are 7 key ways that can ensure your congregation will receive the best from its faith formation staff person:
Clear Job Description and Expectations
A job description with clear roles and responsibilities, a plan for oversight, and an evaluation process will help to avoid misunderstandings among leadership roles. And remember, a job description can and should be adapted and updated to meet the changing needs of both the staff person and the congregation.
Faith Formation Committee
No matter the size of your congregation, the staff person cannot possibly do it all on their own. A faith formation committee can assist with policy-making, communication, recruitment, taking care of program specifics, as well as serving as a sounding board for plans and dreams. This group also can help guard against the “Lone Ranger Syndrome” in a staff person. Help create a team with a variety of gifts and skills to manage all of the necessary tasks successfully.
Parish Relations Committee
Having a small group of trusted people to hear your staff person’s concerns, alongside relating constructive feedback from the congregation, is a good way to keep communication flowing and provide direct support for your staff person. This group can also lift up and celebrate the gifts of this person to the congregation, particularly when he/she is working behind the scenes. Unless your congregation worships intergenerationally each week, much of the faith formation ministry is accomplished out of sight from the main gatherings of the congregation. This committee can help the rest of the congregation to know what these staff persons do every day (not just on Sunday!)
Be sure that your faith formation staff person’s contract and your church budget allow the funding, time, and support for them to attend a conference, take a course, or attend workshops. This will keep them on top of their ministry, and your people and your programs will end up benefitting from these opportunities as well. The Massachusetts Conference offers a faith formation training program with classes for everyone from seasoned professionals to those just starting out, as well as for interested lay persons.
While an evaluation process may appear foreboding at the outset, the absence of such a process can be interpreted as a lack of caring for the staff person and what he/she does. Encouraging your faith formation ministry leader to set goals and reflect on how they were or were not achieved is a good way to help both the staff person and the congregation to grow in this ministry together. Talk about how these faith formation goals support the mission of the entire church.
Begin your staff person’s ministry in your congregation with a service of covenanting (and food afterward!) Celebrate key anniversaries. Send birthday cards and other such greetings at appropriate times of the year. Thank your staff person regularly, particularly for all of the behind-the-scenes work that most people don’t see and aren’t aware of.
Recognize Stress and Burnout
Know the signs of stress and burnout. Be sure the appropriate person or persons sit down with your staff person if they notice these signs. Managing all of the program and congregational details in faith formation ministries can be overwhelming. And it can feel all the more overwhelming if the congregation expects the staff to handle it all themselves. Help to develop a culture of volunteering, care, and support within your congregation. Help the staff person with his/her time management skills, if needed. And be sure to maintain open communication at all times to alleviate future burnout and stress.
Of course there are way more than 7 ways to support your faith formation staff members. I hope you will use these recommendations and your imagination to celebrate the gift you have in those who are passionate about faith formation ministries.
Two great resources that delve more deeply into this topic are from the staff at Ministry Architects :
Sustainable Children’s Ministry: From Last-Minute Scrambling To Long-Term Solutions
by Mark DeVries and Annette Safstrom
Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It
by Mark DeVries
Also, see several of the sections in this resource written specifically for MA Conference UCC congregations:
Seeking a Christian Educator and/or Youth Ministry Leader
Debbie Gline Allen is the part-time Associate for Faith Formation and Youth Ministries for the historic Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 508-603-6601.
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