Leadership is a Relationship.1

This saying is resonating more and more with organizations and society today: “It’s not the web of technology that matters most; it’s the web of people.” Success in leadership, in organization, and in life has been and continues to be a function of how well people work and play together. Success in leading is becoming wholly dependent on the capacity to build and sustain human relationships that enable people to get extraordinary things done on a regular basis.

If leadership is a relationship, then what do people expect from that relationship? What do Sabbath School volunteers want from a superintendent whose direction they’d be willing to follow? While there are many expectations that team members have for their superintendents, the following practices help summarize the essence of Sabbath School leadership: 

1. Foster collaboration and trust. Effective superintendents understand that leadership is not a solo act or a one-way street. As with any relationship, success depends on the team. A central issue in human relationships within and outside the Sabbath School is fostering collaboration through cooperative goals and trust.

An example of a team-building exercise that develops synergy in teams is the Round Table. This team-building activity could include the following ideas used at Sabbath School Council meetings, class facilitators’ meetings, and gatherings for individual Sabbath School classes or total class fellowship:

  • Generate a cheerleading list. Pass around a pen and one sheet of paper. One by one, participants add their reason why they enjoy working with their teammates.
  • Write a team story of Sabbath School ministry. Pass the pen and paper so that each person adds a sentence. Then publish it in the church newsletter.
  • Construct a team collage of recently fulfilled Sabbath School goals. Each person glues the next piece on the bulletin board or free-standing project board.

Effective superintendents recognize that it is natural for individuals within a group to be reluctant to trust others. Promote trust by being the first in your meetings to:

  • Listen attentively to what others are saying.
  • Disclose information about who you are and what you believe.
  • Share information that is useful to others.
  • Ask for feedback—positive and negative.
  • Admit mistakes.
  • Show that you are willing to change your mind when someone else comes up with a good idea.

Taking these steps will stretch your faith and increase your faith when team members respond in kind. Take the risk!

2. Share resources and power.

  • Because they want their team to succeed, effective superintendents initiate brainstorming about how to be most productive.
  • Enabling others to take ownership of and responsibility for their group’s success is accomplished by the leader listening to team members’ ideas and acting upon them by involving them in important decisions and by acknowledging and giving credit for their contributions.

This support makes team members strong:

  • They feel they are able to determine their own destiny.
  • They believe they are able to mobilize the resources and support the necessary goals or skills to complete a task.
  • They persist in their efforts to achieve.

On the other hand, if team members feel controlled by others, lack resources, or believe they lack support, they commit little to the group’s excellence—although they may comply with expected behaviors.

The superintendent is the crucial factor in Sabbath School volunteers sticking with the ministry. Effective superintendents recognize that it is not a matter of giving people power; rather, it’s liberating people to use the power and skills they already have. It’s a matter of setting them free, of expanding their opportunities to use themselves in service to a common and meaningful purpose.

Likewise, the Sabbath School team can take advantage of the concept that power is expandable. Superintendents willing to share power and decision making with others are demonstrating profound trust in and respect for the team’s abilities. Volunteers who feel capable of influencing their superintendents are more strongly connected to them and more committed to effectively carrying out their ministry responsibilities.

Robert D. Crux
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists