It has been said that "nobody is indispensable" and, to a degree, that is a true statement. But I can tell you that, as a former pastor and current leader of a youth ministry organization (with 20+ employees), there are certain staff losses that hit the church or ministry harder than others. Losing these kinds of employees leaves a bigger hole in the ministry because they have made themselves more and more indispensable through working harder, smarter and longer.
This brand of youth leader is the last to get cut when finances go south in a church. Indispensable staff members (no matter what their position) have worked hard in the good times so it makes them almost impossible to let go in the bad times. And firing? Forget it! Unless there is some moral issue, you find a way to keep these employees happy. Why? Because they are working hard and producing results!
After years of observation both the church and non-profit sector I've concluded there are 7 ways a youth leader (or anybody really) can become indispensable at their jobs.
1. Do your job with excellence.
This may be a "no brainer" but I think it bears re-emphasizing. If you do your job with excellence you'll become more and more of a standout staff member. This goes from the little things (turning in receipts, showing up on time to staff meetings, etc) to the bigger things (engaging parents, pulling off solid programs, refusing to "wing" your talks, etc.)
As Proverbs 22:29 reminds us, "Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank." You are a craftsman of sorts. When you serve with skill the leaders will notice.
2. Build strong relationships.
I'll never forget one youth leader who worked at the church I used to pastor. He loved teenagers but refused to spend time building relationships staff, elders, parents or even adult sponsors. As a matter of fact he refused to actively recruit and delegate to adult sponsors because he wanted to be the only one who built the relationships with the teenagers.
Finally, we had to let him go. Why? Because an effective youth leader is more like an orchestra conductor who directs and guides many rather than a lone ranger who tries to do it all himself. Effective youth leaders cultivate several strong relationships on many levels to join him in accomplishing the goal of reaching and transforming teenagers.
3. Improvise, adapt and overcome.
Yes I'm stealing the Army motto because it has just as much to do with ministry as it does with the military. Situations don't always go as planned. Murphy has his law, monkeys have their wrenches and Satan has his minions. And they are all working hard to turn that camp experience into the week from hell or that youth group meeting into a mess.
Indispensable youth leaders, not only know how to prayerfully and decisively adjust when things go poorly, they know how to turn lemons into lemonade. These youth leaders keep in step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25) so they're ready to turn with him on a dime when things go bad and watch him do something amazing in it's place.
4. Stay under budget while producing superior results.
Okay this is more practical than "spiritual" but I'll tell you something as a leader...those who stay under budget while still accomplishing their goals are keepers. These types of leaders work hard and smart. They are not like the government (always throwing money at the problem) but instead work shrewdly and strategically. What they lack in budget they make up for in prayer, duct tape and creativity. These kinds of youth leaders are usually defended by the church treasurer and budget committee (which is almost certain job security!)
5. Take criticism well.
"Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning." Proverbs 9:9
Youth leaders who are indispensable are learners. When they hear a criticism that bites they don't instantly dismiss it as an attack from Satan. Instead they look for the kernel of truth on the cob of criticism and seek to improve in that one area.
When I have to criticize an employee I always watch how they respond. If they are instantly defensive it's usually because there's a pride issue. But what I really look for is long term improvement in that area (which means they've accepted the criticism and are learning from it.)
Learn from criticism. Receive it, ask your spouse if it's true and wrestle with it in prayer. When you take valid criticism well and change as a result of it then you'll become more and more indispensable at your church.
6. Grow the youth group in the right ways.
Grow your students deep and take your youth group wide. Pray and push them toward spiritual maturity and evangelistic impact. The result? A spiritually thriving culture which is growing with new disciples! This brand of youth group is obviously effective to everyone observing. Unless the leaders of that church have a problem with this brand of growth (which would be a horrific statement on the leaders' spiritual temperature) that youth leader will be hard to fire.
For help building a "Deep and Wide" youth group that is effective and grows in the right ways click here.
7. Go above and beyond.
Don't just do the minimum. Don't put in the minimum hours and settle for the minimum results. C students eventually flunk out of ministry. When you go above and beyond in your job God sees and leaders notice. This noticing will reap you rich rewards in heaven and job security on earth.
Apply these seven reminders prayerfully and persistently and you'll become indispensable at your position. God will open doors for more and more fruitful ministry when you refuse to settle and choose to excel for his glory in his power.
Viva LA Cause!