Communicating Expectations Well

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One of the things I have most enjoyed about blogging over the past year has been the lessons I have learned and processed through my writing. Almost a year ago, I broke an unwritten rule I have about not writing about an idea or topic that recently took place when I wrote about communicating expectations.

The truth is, that post came directly out of a lesson I learned while on our annual Spring Break trip. You can click the link above to read the full post, but the short version was I got frustrated because my adult leaders were not following the schedule I had worked up, but I had never given them a copy of the schedule. So, in reality, I was frustrated with myself, not with the incredible team of volunteers who serve in the youth ministry.

As I am spending this week getting ready for the same trip, I am keeping in the forefront of my mind: communicate expectations well.

I believe this is a foundational leadership principle for my personal journey. If those who serve with me do not know what I expect, how can I realistically hold them to those expectations?

Plus, I can be a rather intense person, so learning to write down and communicate those expectations helps me manage them to a more realistic level. In other words, my unspoken expectations are often unrealistic expectations.

So, I have two questions for you today.

  1. Do you struggle with communicating expectations? If I was to ask the people you lead what you expected of them, would their answer line up with your answer?
  2. On a grander scale, what leadership lesson have you learned in the last year and what changes are you making as a result?

Just a side note to finish today: this is why I am so passionate about teaching the 3 questions to student leaders. I can teach a simple concept, and we are then on the same page moving forward!

Guest Post: Don’t Carry the Load Alone

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I’m turning over a new leaf today on the blog with the intent of making guest posts a regular part of the rotation. Today’s guest post is from a good friend–Ryan Connel.

Student ministry has been my pursuit for 20+ years.  I love it!  It takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions.  You can go from the thrill of seeing students understand what Christ did for them, committing their life to Him, to the pain that every day life can bring.  Then there are all the emotions that play out in between those extremes.

Back in the day this time of year would bring about a lot of stress for me as we were in the middle of summer camp & mission trip prep.  One of the reasons it would stress me so is because I wondered if we would have enough students to make a trip work.  I remember hours spent to get speakers, worship teams, small group leaders, cooks, & on down the list, then coming down to the last week & having very few students signed up.  There is a conversation for another time about casting a vision for what you are planning.  But for our purposes today I would like to share one thing that changed our involvement on trips.

As the event came together I would eventually lay out a signup sheet, usually a couple of months out from the trip.  Weekly, I would announce the event to get student involved & excited.  Yet I would walk over to the signup sheet & only have a handful of diehard students signed up.  In my weakness as a leader, I had failed to really connect the students into what we were doing.  At some point along the way I made the choice to call students in the weeks leading up to an event & invite them to come join us.  It was definitely more effective, but I’m betting you can already hear what the first question was on the other side of the phone, “Who else is going?”  I always thought that was a funny question & understood to a point why they would ask it, but why the need to have other students validate if the event was worth while.

My answer finally came in a book that changed a lot for me.  It is called “Sustainable Youth Ministry” by Mark DeVries.  Why I missed this for so long, I don’t know, but I’m thankful for the incredible resources we have our disposal now days.  One of the things I remember him mentioning is how he would get his leadership students to make phone calls when leading up to events.  I gave it a try a few years back & it changed so much for us.  The first thing I noticed is the excitement in my leadership students.  It meant a ton to them to be asked to be involved in the preparation.  I also noticed that they were able to connect in more students than I ever would have thought of or had contact information for.  There was also an excitement that came from the leadership students sharing their excitement, that built the excitement of those being invited, so those being invited made things more exciting because the leaders could see the fruit of their labors, which eventually lead into a life changing event for many students.

The lesson I learned was to stop trying to carry the responsibility to get students involved by myself, because the reality is I won’t always be around & I’m limited in my connections.  God has gifted us with students that want to & should be used for the kingdom, so why not use them & grow them even in something so simple.  The other important lesson was that ministry isn’t a sit back & wait responsibility.  It is engaging at all levels.  So who are the students you can involve in your next event?

Interested in reading Sustainable Youth Ministry? Pick up a copy today!


Embrace Your Strength

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How well do you know yourself? What settings do you find yourself naturally gravitating toward and thriving as a result?

I work better in a collaborative setting. When I have the opportunity to work with a group of people, my creativity goes through the roof.

For example, last year I worked with an intern. The greatest benefit was having someone with whom I could talk through decisions and ideas. When left to myself, I bog down in possibilities and options.

What about you? How do you thrive? Do you find yourself being rejuvenated by working alone? Or maybe you feel like working in a group helps you present your best?

If you have never considered this before, take just a minute and think about the last month. How many times have you tried to get together with a group of people? How many gatherings have you avoided? When did you feel energized?

Some people do better by themselves, where others thrive in community. Neither is right or wrong, unless you’re going against your wiring.

Once you have evaluated and decided how best you work, embrace it. Because I do better in group settings, I have built group times into my schedule. I have two to three groups I meet with on a regular basis, whether it be lunch, catching up, or coffee. Our time together may not always be about ministry or leadership, but I regularly grow as a result. My schedule reflects my leanings.

If you do better alone, find time to get away. Let your calendar reflect your strengths. Schedule in times to get creative.

One final word, balance is important. I may lean towards working better in a group, but I still have to find time to work alone. You may work better alone, but you cannot hide from group work completely.

Know your strength. Play to your strength. Embrace your strength. But do not neglect your weakness. Find the balance.

Know Yourself: Trust Your Instincts

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Have you ever seen Napoleon Dynamite? Unfortunately, the story that follows may make me seem a lot like Napoleon, and the comparison is very likely true.

In high school, I was in FFA. As part of my FFA experience, I joined the Dairy Products judging team. Our contests did not occur like the scene in Napoleon Dynamite (where he sits at a table on a stage, drinks some milk, and says the cow had gotten into an onion patch), but the basic principle of the contest was similar.

Our team would split into different groups and we would rotate through different rooms: milk, cheese, natural/artificial, and a written test. In each room, there would be a number of samples and our role was to determine the identity or defect of each sample.

I judged dairy products for four years and walked away with quite possibly one of the most productive life lessons I have ever gained, but it wasn’t how to tell if milk has gone bad.

I learned to trust my first instinct.

I remember one contest in particular, maybe my Junior year. It was early in the judging season, and the contest was right up my alley because it did not include the written test.

We went through the contest, turned in our scorecards, and our Ag teacher took us back through the contest so we could see how we did. Well, as we went through, I realized I scored a perfect score. I did not miss a single defect, flavor, or texture. I was ecstatic, until the awards ceremony.

I was wrong. I missed one milk defect (still impressive, but not perfect). The confusion came because I second guessed myself and changed my answer on my official scorecard, but not on the one I kept for after the contest.

I learned a very valuable lesson that day: trust my first instinct because it generally will not let me down.

Since that contest, especially in school, I learned to trust my gut, especially on tests and homework. Still today, however, I have worked this into my identity as I set out to accomplish different tasks.

Often times today that first instinct is a nagging feeling that I need to have a tough conversation with someone, or that something needs to change. Sometimes, my first instinct is to simply listen, or to walk away.

So, let me ask you today: do you know yourself? Are you the same way? What have you learned about yourself in your leadership journey? Can you trust your first instinct, or are you better when you deliberate?

Don’t Be Surprised

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I think we all pick up leadership lessons to which we continually return. You learned something along your leadership journey, then forget what you learned, then are reminded of the validity of the lesson.

Recently, I found myself returning to a simple principle I learned a few years ago: don’t let someone’s character surprise you.

Along your leadership journey you will encounter more and more people. After a period in the same situation, you will start to learn more about individuals-their interests, habits, and character.

Then, one day, the inevitable will happen. Someone will do something to disappoint you. They will drop the ball on a project. They will show up late, again. They will gossip. They will fail to show up at all. Any number of possibilities, and they leave you, the leader, dealing with the fall out.

Before you take it out on them, or if you’re like me, take it out on yourself, ask yourself one thing: is this in line with who I know them to be? Do these actions line up with their past behavior?

I cannot promise the answer to this question will soften the blow for you, but I learned a long time ago if I can avoid expecting people to behave in the same way I would behave, I will be much healthier.

We all have faults. I can change my faults. I cannot change yours, nor can I change the faults of those I lead. I can encourage change in others, but I can only change myself.

What recent disappointment in your life resulted from expecting your values and character from someone else? How have you worked through that disappointment? Take some time today to process the situation through the lens of “don’t let someone’s character surprise you”, and see what changes.

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