*This article was featured and published on XPastor.org
It goes without saying that the past year has brought an abundance of challenges for ministry leaders. We’ve had to take on challenges we never would have expected and might not have been necessarily prepared for, and then lead teams of staff and volunteers through them. We’ve had to reevaluate goals, budgets, and the way in which we implement ministry efforts we’ve done a certain way for years. We’ve watched hours worth of press conferences from governing leaders, read a thesis paper’s worth of documents from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and sat in long meetings with our teams to figure out a way to move forward.
To you leaders – I say thank you. You have led people in what has often seemed like a whole new world of ministry… all to faithfully serve Christ’s church. But in the midst of the fast cadence of moving forward I’d like to encourage you to remember to do something that too often leaders forget to do: celebrate.
“Celebration is an incredibly valuable habit of leadership. However, it’s also an often-forgotten habit of leadership.”
I believe if you and I are able to pause for a minute to reflect on the past year, the people on our ministry teams, and all they have done to faithfully serve in their roles I have no doubt you will realize we should take time to celebrate them for their faithfulness and labor.
Even more so, may you and I pause to remember our Lord, His presence, and His faithfulness every step of the way. Throughout the Scriptures we see God’s people setting up monuments to remember the Lord their God and all He did for them – often in the midst of crisis. Should we not also pause to reflect on what God has done in the midst of the crisis of our day?
He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” Joshua 4:21-24
THE VALUE OF CELEBRATION
Let me give you three, practical reasons it’s incredibly important for ministry leaders to celebrate the people they lead:
We Communicate Value
More than likely people on our team are tired: physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. Every one of us in ministry has experienced those moments when we have said to ourselves, “This is so much. Is it worth it?” We know it is. Yet ministry fatigue can set in quickly, especially during the seasons of crisis we have found ourselves in. When we take time to celebrate, we communicate to our people that their faithfulness is valuable, both to the Kingdom and to us personally. We are saying that we see them, we empathize with them, we valuethem, and we recognize their faithful labor.
It Benefits Our Ministries
Celebration cultivates energy for ministry leaders. When we celebrate well it motivates our team to keep going and continue to be faithful. When our teams our motivated by joy and encouragement (and not just principle and obligation) our ministries will benefit from the energy and zeal that is cultivated. In ministry we ought to be careful as leaders not to see our staff as only laborers of the harvest, but also sheep of the pasture. Everyone needs a shepherd who leads us towards streams of water that will refresh us.
It Reminds You & Me That We Are Servant Leaders
We’ve had to make a lot of asks of those we lead this year, and rightfully so. However, as leaders we must always be reminded that if we are going to be Christlike leaders then we will be servant leaders. Pausing to think about how to celebrate our people well naturally lend itself to thinking about how we can serve our people well.
THE ART OF CELEBRATNG WELL
So, how do we make sure we take time to celebrate and celebrate well? Most ministries do a good job of having some type of regular rhythm of events for appreciation of team members. However (if I can be honest for a moment) oftentimes ministries don’t actually do celebration well. In fact, sometimes these efforts can be a downright painful experience for those who are meant to be appreciated. Here’s how to avoid that:
Plan Ahead & Delegate the Right Elements to the Right People
Too often a celebratory effort is an afterthought in our planning. It’s one of the most common mistakes that many of us ministry leaders make, and frankly – the sense of these being an afterthought is noticed.
Planning celebration well does not mean you need to do all the planning. Find those couple of people in your ministry or on your team who are gifted and enjoy planning and ask them to lead such efforts. Ask them to find a date and location and put together a general plan based on the demographics of your team. For example, if a large segment of people on your team have children, do what you can to avoid a school night for the party. Whatever you do, do all that you can to make the effort accessible to those who are being appreciated. You can’t please everyone, but you can be thoughtful towards most.
In the same way that the celebration should not be thrown together last minute, do not make the celebration cheap. Don’t get me wrong, you should be a wise steward and stay within your budget. However, be committed to making whatever you do an excellent experience for those whom you are celebrating. Do the best you can with what you have.
In the popular sitcom The Office, manager Michael Scott wanted to appreciate his staff team and increase morale by ordering everyone pizza for lunch. He ended up ordering a stack of pizzas from Pizza by Alfredobecause he had a coupon and it was cheaper pizza. Unfortunately, everyone found the pizza to be disgusting, and morale actually decreased. What’s the lesson here? Saving a few dollars on awful food does not make you a good steward. It means you wasted money on food no one wants to eat.
Make It Fun
“Fun” is often the key element that makes or breaks a celebratory effort. As ministry leaders, we sometimes have a real tendency to take ourselves too seriously. When we take time to celebrate, we need to provide space and opportunity for people to enjoy, smile, and laugh together. Research tells us that laughter actually plays a key role in creating social bonds. So provide opportunity for laughter!
Not all leaders are great at making things fun. That is O.K. because I bet there are one or two people on your team or in your ministry who are. Lean on them to plan and lead the fun elements of the celebration.
A few years ago, I led a leadership team that included Brittany, one of the most gifted leaders I know when it comes to relational leadership and fun. Every year, we hosted a Christmas party to celebrate and appreciate our team. When we planned the event, guess who I asked to plan and lead the “fun” elements of the party? You guessed correctly – Brittany. And she knocked it out of the park! By the end of the evening, everybody was smiling ear-to-ear and laughing together as we participated in the fun mixers and activities she planned and led.
Champion The Vision
Times of celebration should always be leveraged to champion and remind people of the vision of your ministry. In celebrating your people, help them see why they and their faithful efforts matter in where you’re moving toward.
A couple years ago, one of our children’s ministry directors had the idea to interview a few of our parents during our annual appreciation for volunteer leaders. Parents shared stories of how our children’s ministry team had an impact on the lives of their children who were now growing up and following Jesus.
Then our director asked the volunteer leaders who cared for these children when they were babies to stand. Then she asked the same thing of leaders who cared for the children when they were preschoolers. You think those leaders caught the vision of why their faithfulness over time in leading, caring, and praying for these young ones mattered? Absolutely.
These leaders were reminded that God was using them as part of His work in the lives of people, which is why we ultimately celebrate—to remember our God and all that He is doing in and through His people. Celebration is a way we worship. God is worthy of being celebrated and remembered. You and I know nothing happens without His kind and gracious hand at work. May we give Him the best of our celebration.
FIND A WAY TO CELEBRATE
Leaders – how you celebrate may look different this year. You may not be able to gather a lot of people or you may not be able to gather at all. You may need to get creative. You may need to lean on teammates to help you do this well.
Recently a team I led received a package from a partnering organization. They shipped it full with fun decorative elements, snacks, gifts, and a gift card for our team to have lunch together. Perhaps, if you cannot gather at all, you do something similar to celebrate and appreciate your team members?
Whatever it is that you do to celebrate, leader – may you celebrate well. May you celebrate the faithfulness of those you serve and who serve with you. May you remember the Lord your God, His faithfulness, activity, and His power in the days both behind and before you.
The principles in this article come from “Primed To Lead: An Honest Conversation For New & Experienced Leaders”. Chris Warszawski serves as the Family Ministries Pastor at Lifepoint Church in Lewis Center, OH. Serving in church leadership roles for over a decade, Chris’ passion is to help leaders and families have generational impact.