On a recent trip speaking to students, I asked the staff of a highly successful collegiate ministry what major challenge they face at this point in the semester. Without hesitation, they shared that keeping student leaders engaged as the semester settled in was a significant challenge.
Typically, a year of collegiate ministry on campus starts with a rush of activity as college ministry leaders engage new and returning students, forge new connections, and plan and promote fall retreats. Then, classes accelerate into predictable rhythms of work and study, and student leaders find their plates incredibly full of obligations, burgeoning relationships and ministry responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, many student leaders feel the pressure to let something go, and unfortunately, ministry responsibilities are often what hit the chopping block first.
I want to suggest that cultivating a healthy leadership culture in your ministry is the key pathway to keeping student leaders engaged. Cultivating a healthy leadership culture opens better pathways for communication and shows your leaders you care more about them as people than getting ministry tasks accomplished.
While much goes into cultivating a healthy leadership culture in your ministry, the greatest elements are vulnerability and trust, transformational moments and providing redemptive feedback.
Vulnerability and Trust
Vulnerability and trust begin when you bring your whole self into your leadership environment without fear of rejection. Additionally, when you show your leaders that you like who they are even better than you like what they can do, it goes a long way to fostering the kind of trust with them that leads to their vulnerability with you.
Another key element in building a healthy leadership culture is transformational moments. In their wonderful book The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath suggest such moments are built on the characteristics of elevation, insight, pride and connection. The reason we love to take students away on fall retreat, plan mission experiences and take groups to conferences is that we appreciate the shared learning, struggle and community fostered in these settings. Craft opportunities for your leader team to experience transformational moments together.
Redemptive feedback is rooted in the imago Dei, the understanding that every person is made in the image of God and as such has inherent worth and value. As those who bear that image, our greatest glory is in growing to look more and more like Jesus, and one of our greatest ministries is helping another image bearer look more and more like our Redeemer as well.
Characteristics of Redemptive Feedback
Redemptive feedback is relational. Few things are more maddening than when someone says as a precursor to feedback, “Don’t take this personally . . .” How else are we supposed to take it—we are persons. Redemptive feedback rooted in the imago Dei aims to offer feedback that shrinks the distance between us and another as well as between another and God.
Redemptive feedback is true. For our feedback to truly be redemptive it must be concerning things that are observed and verifiable. We cannot offer good feedback to someone unless we have personally seen the attitude or action in need of feedback.
Redemptive feedback is actionable. Make sure your feedback includes an encouragement about something you have seen or an offer for help or coaching. For the receiver, the feedback should provide the opportunity for repentance, reconciliation or even glory, as we recognize a job well done or the person using gifts to bless others.
For redemptive feedback to be a continual hallmark of your ministry, it should not be manipulative, principally about organizational betterment or concerned only with behavior modification.
The Practice of Redemptive Feedback
“If you see something say something.” As we lean into practicing redemptive feedback, keep in mind that it isn’t only reserved for moments of correction but also for praise. When you, with honesty, praise one of your leaders for a job well done or for something you notice God growing in them, it has the capacity to lift spirits and encourage more of the same. Also, when you share glorifying feedback in the company of others, it promotes “good gossip” and can contribute to other leaders showing up with their best selves for the good of everyone.
When your feedback must be critical, use it as a coaching moment and an opportunity for growth. Develop a coaching plan with specific goals to follow up together.
The semester can get long, and leaders can struggle to stay engaged. The commitment to cultivate a healthy leadership culture will go a long way to not only retaining leaders to fulfill a task, but also to growing the type of leaders that will allow your ministry to thrive.