Peer Supervision in Youth Ministry
Most professions require a certain level of supervision in order to make sure a company’s employees are “hitting the mark.” In many churches, there is—at best—the annual performance review, but often the one performing the review is either way too removed to be helpful or too involved to remain objective.
Many ministries run on a shoestring budget and lack staff to adequately equip volunteers. And youth ministries often operate on an island—they’re out there separate from the “real church,” making it up as they go along. Sometimes youth ministries don’t identify best practices or even gauge whether or not what they’re doing is producing the hoped-for fruit.
The following are suggestions for peer supervision in youth ministry. These ideas will help whether the senior pastor does the reviews or peers offer reviews of one another. This isn’t meant to be a corporate exercise—it’s intended to provide a system of ongoing feedback to measure how well we’re stewarding the privilege of pouring into the lives of youth.
1) Care about each other’s spiritual life.
This should goes without saying, but it often takes a back seat to other “important” ministry stuff. Make sure those you serve with are serving from a cup that runs over—not from a cup that’s nearly empty. Spend time communicating the importance of spiritual health. The principle “You cannot transmit something you haven’t got” applies here. If volunteers are operating out of a deficiency, then they’re likely to burn out and be ineffective.
2) Create dialogue about curriculum.
Most volunteers aren’t trained in theology. Many volunteers aren’t even aware of the doctrinal positions of their church—yet they’re given free reign to teach. This is not a mandate to micromanage or push your own agenda—it’s a strong encouragement to know what’s being taught in your ministry. Countless problems can be attributed to well-intentioned but untrained volunteers teaching conflicting material to their youth. The number of calls from parents or elders concerned about non-biblical teaching can be reduced by talking with volunteers about how to use the curriculum. More importantly, it will create space and opportunity to sharpen each other as you appropriately handle the word of God.
3) Share training resources.
Time-pressured volunteers don’t have the luxury of escaping for a weeklong conference on youth ministry—most can barely squeeze their kids’ softball games into their already busy weeks. Use technology to share relevant information with each other, such as webinars, articles, and self-study courses. If your budget allows, share the cost of these. You can also schedule monthly one-on-one time to share what you’re learning about youth and youth culture. This attitude and behavior create a culture of learning, which will potentially lead to better ministry outcomes.
4) Offer direct feedback.
There’s no better way to provide feedback than by observing one another in action. When was the last time you were able to sit in on someone else’s small group to learn and share insights? When was the last time you were able to give them immediate feedback on their leadership and receive immediate feedback on your own leadership mistakes and successes? If you can’t be present, you can Skype or FaceTime into a group meeting. How cool would it be if your ministry happened to have a star volunteer you could capture on video to use to train other volunteers?
5) Get familiar with policies and procedures.
This seems very corporate, but it’s saved us on more than one occasion. Have you had a conversation with volunteers on what to do if a student discloses that they’re being abused at home? Is there a reporting structure in place? Are there expectations and safety guidelines in place to protect volunteers and students? If not, it would be wise to begin some discussions about these.
6) Develop a resource bank.
This could be a library with hard copies of materials, it could be a list on Amazon.com, it could be names of those in the community who specialize in certain areas of need. This should include names of other youth workers or volunteers in the area. Is there a Youth Ministry Network you can access? Are there professionals who work with youth in other arenas who can sharpen you and others? (Teachers, social workers, counselors, legal professionals, health care professionals, etc.)
7) Collaborate with others to equip your team.
You don’t have to be an expert on all things. There are plenty of others who can contribute to the training of you and your colleagues. It’s important to know what you don’t know. Several years ago we had a rash of teenage girls engaged in self-injurious behaviors (cutting). At the time, we knew nothing about how to handle this. But we knew some people who did, so we invited them to come work with our team. They helped us better understand cutting, which eliminated some of the shock for us, and we were able to engage the girls in ways that made a difference. Identify the assets in your personal network, and invite them to share with your ministry leaders.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start. As we struggle to be taken seriously in the ministry world, systems of peer supervision and accountability will definitely increase the potential of our ministries.
What are other ways you have provided support to those you serve with?
Chris Schaffner is a certified addictions counselor working with chemically dependent ’emerging adults’ and is also the founder of Conversations on the Fringe. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.