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Mar 03

A youthworker’s guide to e-mail

This is, perhaps, an unusual blog post to be on a youth leadership website but it is an important one. Youthworker and administration are not always two words that go together well. Just this week, one of the leaders I mentor revealed to me his struggle with admin. Experience tells me that this is a common reality. People in youth ministry tend to be pioneers, they look at life slightly differently to others in the church and they can be perhaps more spontaneous. The thought of admin can leave us cold or as that thing we do when there’s nothing else to do!

But the reality is that administration is an essential part of the role. Yes, 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 lists administration as a spiritual gift so some of us are gifted particularly, but as with all gifts, it’s absence doesn’t excuse us from attempting it at all.

I want to focus particularly on our e-mail usage as this seems to be a particularly public way that youth workers tend to get caught out. E-mail overwhelm is a common problem. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to handle, especially for younger leaders who are grown up with using social media as the natural way to communicate rather than e-mail. But we must learn to see e-mail as our friend and it remains the most effective, and professional, way of communicating with adults.

Here are five reasons why being in control of your inbox is important:

1. It stops us being absorbed by our own agenda

When we have an out of control inbox, where we don’t respond to incoming emails quickly (and by quickly I mean at least within one week), it can communicate to others that we are not interested in what they have to say or their requests. This can be exacerbated when we send out an email about what we need to communicate when the recipient is still waiting for a response from us to their message.

Keeping on top of our inbox enables us to show that we are interested in others, that we value their input and we are building God’s kingdom together, not my way, but God’s.

We need to see email as an effective way of communicating together, not just a shortcut to broadcast our thoughts.

2. It empowers our team

As a youth minister, I find it can be all to easy to do everything myself. I live and breathe youth work and so when I go into a team meeting or a youth group session, I know exactly what I want us to do and how we should do it. I have had to learn that this is not the reality for those around me who volunteer.

Email is an effective way of empowering my team in advance so that they can share in where I think things should be going. It helps them to be able to turn up to sessions with a better understanding of what I hope might happen. People will have a clearer understanding of what their role is and how they can contribute. It also helps them know how to pray for the session and the potential conversations with young people.

3. It builds people’s trust in us

Being on top of our inbox helps to communicate that we are someone who can be trusted; trusted to take care of their young people. This is essential for our relationship with parents of young people. They need to know that when we suggest taking their children away to an event or for a weekend, that we can be trusted. How we respond to email is one way we can build this trust. Do we take the time to reply to their messages or do we leave them lingering in the dark corners of our inbox or perhaps flagged for future response?

A quick reply, thanking them for their message and a thoughtful response will help build their trust in us as leaders. It shows we are partnering with them to raise spiritually alive young people and that we recognise the significance of our role investing in the lives of the young people.

4. It helps us to portray a professional leadership

Professional can be a dirty word in church settings, largely due to misunderstanding what we might mean by it. By professional I don’t mean we rely on our own abilities rather than the Lord’s provision. What I mean is that we take our responsibilities seriously and we are purposeful and diligent in our planning, preparation, leadership and pastoring in our ministry. Most adults are used to emails be answered quickly in a work context. In a church context we need to be the same. It communicates that we are on top of our work, we are a safe pair of hands to lead the youth work and we have a good understanding of what we are doing. We are not ‘playing’ at youth work, but we take it very seriously as our life calling.

5. It is a great way to track group decisions

Please don’t be slow to reply to requests, especially when they are sent to more than one person. Not replying is simply rude! It’s communicating I have more important things to do and consider than replying to your message. You wouldn’t get away with it in a business, so don’t allow it in God’s business.

That being said, emails are a great way to make decisions as a group and to keep a track of it. The ‘reply all’ feature enables us to see what each person is thinking. If you are looking to gather leaders together to pray or plan, using email to see people’s availability is a quick way to find the most popular time to meet.

It also keeps a record, for everyone, of any discussion that takes place and can be a useful history of how ideas develop or plans emerge. It helps to keep everyone on the same page.

Being on top of our email helps release us from that feeling that we are not quite in control of what we are doing. Knowing I have responded to the needs of others helps me to have a clear mind to consider what God is asking me to do next. Make it your goal to change your attitude to email and make your inbox your friend!