Finding the right leaders has always been a struggle for me. Who are they? How old can a Youth Leader be and be effective? Where can I find them? I need girl leaders!!! The questions of who, where and how seemed so overwhelming at times. Have you ever asked yourself these questions?
I believe that anyone can be a leader. However, I also believe we should not be just leaders. Rather, I believe we need to emulate Christ, who modeled Incarnational Leadership when he came down to us, on earth, to save us.
An Incarnational Youth Leader is one who reaches out to students as an adult friend. They are NOT someone who waits for students to come to them and they are NOT just another buddy to the students. They take an active interest in the students and are able to draw boundaries with them as they help them in the students’ personal walk with Christ.
In order to find these types of leaders to surround yourself with, you have to first identify who and where they are. At small, medium and even large churches or ministries, the pool of potential leaders is not what they can be at mega-churches. So, you have to be creative in where you look for your leaders. They could be:
- Graduating seniors from your youth program are solid believers and are staying in the area for school or work.
- Friends of existing leaders. Have you ever challenged your current leaders to be looking out for new leader potentials amongst their friends?
- A young married couple with minimal obligations (such as children of their own) that can connect with youth and be a model of good, godly relationships.
- A mature adult in your church looking to serve in some capacity. He/she may be a great teacher and share about life experiences that the youth could really benefit from.
As Pastors and Ministers to smaller Churches/Para-Churches, we have got to be resourceful and creative in how we identify and recruit leaders. Do not have the mindset that they have to look a certain way to be effective.
After we identify who and where your potential leaders are, the second key is to do your homework on each potential leader.
At times, when I was desperate for leaders, I tended to look for warm bodies, stopgaps to meet the growing needs of our youth. That is always the wrong approach to take. I was so desperate for help that I tried to fill the gap with someone who should not have been a leader. I did not rely on God to provide. I sought to fill it by myself. I should have looked at Matthew 9:37-38 where Christ says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” God promises to provide the workers. The problem is that too often, I failed to ask him to provide.
You have to do your research and get to know exactly who this person is, why they want to be a leader and what their personal life is like. As I said above, anyone can be a leader, but in order to be one, you need to be held to a higher standard. For example, one leader disaster was of a girl who grew up in a Christian home, went to a Christian High School and seemed, on the outside like a solid, well-rounded girl. When she graduated high school, I asked her to be a leader and met with her. In that meeting, I never asked her for her testimony, her beliefs on some hot topics nor did I ask her to fill out a Leader Form. I assumed I knew how she would respond so I never asked the question.
When she got to the local university as a freshman, it seemed that all she believed and all she wanted quickly left her. The problem was, she never had it to begin with. All I thought she believed, all the morals and the maturity that I thought she had was never really there to begin with. But, because I never did my research on her and properly interviewed her, I never knew her. After putting out a few “fires” she started with leaders and students, I had to let her go. This could have been avoided if I would have done my homework.
Some of the things you should discuss with potential leaders are:
- Their life story (how did they grow up, what was their family life like, how is their relationship like with their siblings, what are their hopes and dreams for the future)
- Their testimony (how did they come to know Christ, what are they learning now)
- How would they like to serve in the Church (do they want to be a small group leader, give talks, help with administrative needs, be involved on the worship team or be up front doing a game)
- Make sure their vision of youth ministry lines up with yours. You may have some of the nicest leaders with some of the best hearts around, but if their vision does not line up with yours, then both of you could end up being very frustrated. For example, you may want to build a program that focuses on outreach. But, your potential leader may believe your group should be a small group that focuses strictly on discipleship. It is best to know their view and for them to know yours in the beginning so before potential problems arise about the different styles.
A third key is to have a job description for them. Do not limit what a leader can look like. Do not assume that all leaders have to be in college or a young adult who plays sports and looks like a model (are there any out there?). Those would be great to have, definitely, but if we limit ourselves to just this type of leader, we eliminate other potentially great leaders. Whether it is a parent, a teacher, an older adult, it does not matter. You have to look for a person who loves the Lord, can relate to today’s youth and desires to win them to Christ.
In the same way, we cannot have the same expectations for what each leader does. We have to think outside the box and be flexible with roles. For example, I had an older adult help me one time with our Sunday School program. He was awesome! He took the material and presented in a great way for students. Now, he was not a good fit for some of our other components of our ministry, but for the Sunday School program, he was a perfect fit. Another time, I was short on female help, so a mom asked me to help out. She was great as she helped me organize girl-centric events and small groups as well as give presentations to the leaders about discipleship.
We need to identify roles you need to fill and create job descriptions for them. Be flexible with different roles for your leaders. Not every leader is going to have 10-15 hours a week to give to being with students and youth events. But just because this person does not have that time does not mean he or she cannot be effective within a certain role. Maybe you need a small group leader to focus on 4-5 teens. They do the small group, keep in touch with those students throughout the week and that is it. That is great! Those students are being invested into.
The key is to have a job description for that role and have them stick to it.
Lastly, we need to properly train and equip them to be effective. I have had some great leaders working with me that were underutilized and ended up leaving our program frustrated and feeling useless. That is because I failed to give them the vision and did not equip them to be effective. How can a leader be really effective if they do not know where you are going or how to get there?
At first I thought it was necessary to just connect with every leader and see how they are doing. I thought that they could just quickly pick up on how we minister and be able to do what I model to them. Boy, was I wrong.
I had to come up with some core leadership topics that I wanted to train and equip the leaders in. Some of the topics I wanted to train the leaders in were how to lead a small group, how to give an effective message and winning ourselves to Christ daily. When we started training our leaders, a funny thing started to happen – they actually learned how to minister to students!
These times together where we were training to be more effective ministers were great, but I quickly realized that we needed to give our leaders more. Not only do we need to train them to be effective in ministry, but we need to invest in them by training them to be effective in life. It can often be portrayed that all Youth Pastors and Ministers care about is about getting the job done. We only care about what leaders can do for us and the program. By invest in our leaders by training them in life skills, we show them how much we care about them as a person. Instead of having a Leaders Meeting that focuses on planning on how to give an effective talk, why not talk about financial responsibilities (especially now) or how to manage your time. These are topics that the leaders, no matter what age they are, will benefit from. And, when they leave your program, they will know that you cared about them because you invested in their future.
Right now, TAKE A MINUTE and…
- Identify some potential leaders you can meet this week
- Brainstorm some potential roles for your leaders
- Brainstorm some life skills you can train your leaders in and some practical ministry topics
I have made my share of mistakes in recruiting, training and developing leaders. It is when I fail to take these steps that the mistakes happen the most. Our students deserve the best leaders out there. They need the best. We cannot always control how effective a leader will be, but when we identify, train them properly and give them a vision and role, the leaders can be successful, the students will benefit and angels will be singing in heaven as more and more students will come to know him and be strengthen in their faith.