At the time of this writing, we are celebrating my daughters one week birthday. As I spend time being a father, caring for my daughter and attending to her every need right now, I find myself reflecting on how caring for a newborn baby is very similar to being a leader.
I used to watch parents and chuckle inside when I would see them praise their baby for everything little thing that they did. Now that I’m a parent, I can understand why. Everything my daughter does is the first time that she has done it. And it takes time to learn all those things. With each attempt, I find myself praising her efforts and affirming her. She stops crying after I change her diaper. “Good job!” She starts to control her head movement a little. “Yay!” She burps for the first time. “Way to go!” She grabs my finger with just a little more pressure and force. “Wow! You are awesome! You are so strong!”
These are mundane little things that I am praising her for. But are they really mundane? For a newborn, they are a big deal. Yet, when we work with adults in ministry and they start to learn new tasks, we don’t praise them. Why? That adult volunteer learning to lead a small group of teenagers for the first time is just as big of a deal as my daughter lifting her own head.
We find it so natural to affirm our children for all the new things that they are learning, even when they fail at it. But with adults, we can’t bring ourselves to do the same thing. Not that we need to treat the adults we work with in ministry as newborns, but we should be intentional about praising and affirming them when they are learning new skills and become better leaders.
Make a list of the adults that you work with in ministry. Next to their name, write three to five things that they should be praised for. Next time you work with them, affirm them for one of those things that you listed. You will find that they will be more motivated next time to do a better job at their ministry role and work to become better leaders. Why? Because we all respond to positive praise and affirmation.
Just don’t talk to them like you would a newborn.