Transitional Leadership for Youth Ministry: Setting Up Systems for Success

We’re getting ready for one of the biggest fundraisers since I began serving in ministry at Parma Lutheran Church. This Saturday, we’re hosting a Pasta Dinner & Chinese Auction that we’re hoping will bring in a significant amount of money to go toward’s the kid’s attendance at the 2012 ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans.

Last time we ran a big fundraiser, it failed miserably. A huge part of that failure was due to the fact that I held too tightly to the reigns on a project that I was not equipped to help succeed. Much of the failure was a result of the fact that I let things fall through the cracks.

That failure has impacted our youth ministry for the past two years. People have been hesitant to support the youth financially, continually recalling that miserable failure of a fundraiser. It wasn’t me that suffered–though I took a lot of the heat–it was our young people that were most affected by that failure.

I didn’t set that fundraiser up for success.

In working through this period of transition, and as we’ve been preparing for this coming fundraiser, there has been a lot on my mind about establishing systems for a successful future. In planning this fundraiser, I was very intentional about handing over the reigns to volunteers that I knew could make the event successful. It has been my goal to empower these volunteers to see that they absolutely can make a difference for these kids.

As I was having my partner in crime (hah, or our Director of Education & Family Ministries) proofread the program for the event (one of the few things I had a hand in this time around) this afternoon, she asked why my name wasn’t anywhere in the program: “Shouldn’t you at least be listed as the Youth Director? Or as the person who made the programs? Or something?!” My answer: “I’ll pass.”

Here’s the real reasoning behind that move, though. I’m really confident that the fundraising event this Saturday is going to be a success. It’s going to be a success that will hopefully overshadow the failure of our fundraising event a few years ago. And as I’m preparing to leave, I don’t want my name associated with that success. My name is a vapor in the wind, but the people who have poured themselves out to make this event happen–they will be around for a while–and their success needs to be remembered. Not mine.

This whole process is just one of the ways that I am seeking to set up systems for success beyond my departure in June. We have some really quality adults involved in the ministry to youth at this church, and they need to know that. Their success with this event will help propel the youth ministry into the future beyond my departure.

So, what does this mean, this whole setting up systems for success thing, anyway?

It means taking time to make sure the youth ministry will succeed beyond your departure. Communicate and communicate more about what has and has not worked during your time of service. Empower volunteers to take the reigns on big projects before you leave. Support them in those endeavors, but allow the success to be theirs. Leave files neat and orderly so that important documents can be found once you’re gone. Let the youth know that even after you’re gone they will be in good hands–in the hands of people who care about them and love them so much.

Essentially, do everything that you possibly can to make sure that your successor is successful, even if that means that you don’t take credit for some big things before you leave. You don’t need the credit for it anyway.


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