Updated: Jan 27
I recently came across one of those facebook memes that seem to pop up regularly. This one was more profound than most. It said that leadership is not about attracting followers - it's about developing other leaders. Too often in youth ministry we are trying to think of ways to get more young people through the door. While this is not a bad aim, it is a means to a greater end: to see young people accept Christ and provide leadership in his Kingdom.
So how do we develop leaders? By creating a leadership culture. Here are some suggestions:
1. Expect everyone to lead
Can everyone lead? I contend "yes", in at least some capacity. And leadership comes in many forms. When we talk about young people having “leadership potential” we often mean they are confident, outgoing and able to inspire others to act. But sometimes our quieter people have just as much leadership potential albeit a different type of leadership. A couple of years back I invited one of our 17 year olds to come to a leadership training seminar. She shyly replied “Oh...no. I’m not really a leader.” She came and now not only leads in our intermediate and high school programmes but will this year serve as a youth intern.
2. Provide opportunities to lead
These opportunities don’t need to be up-front sole leadership roles. Encourage a year 9 to assist with running a social programme or have them help set up and run the projector for worship. These small steps can be the starting point for leadership. A friend and very capable youth worker and musician recently shared how when he was a young teen the worship leader bought him onto the team and had him sit at the back with his guitar. Sure he made mistakes but these weren’t highlighted for all to see. He grew in confidence and eventually led the team.
3. Make opportunities more challenging and meaningful as they get older
A role that is challenging for a year 9 may not be quite so challenging five years later when they are in year 13. The challenges to lead at this age group need to stretch them or they will become bored. We started a midweek outreach to intermediates three year ago. It has been a helpful way to contact more young people and to funnel them through to our youth ministry. Yet perhaps the most valuable aspect to this ministry has been the opportunities to lead for years 12 & 13. They have run games, led small groups and counselled one to one with the young people. Some have followed the intermediates into high school where they continue to disciple them. Next year, of our 14 leaders, exactly half were once leaders in our intermediate programme.
4. Provide training
It’s never too young to teach leadership principles and skills. What would you like your year 9 & 10’s to know and do? What about your year 11 & 12’s or year 13’s? In our youth group we put of year 12 & 13’s through a two year emerging leaders training programme. The fact that they are invited to participate says to them we see them as a leader which increases their motivation to learn and grow.
5. Develop depth
In some young groups the year 13’s have a similar experience to the year 9’s. They are taught similar things and have similar expectations. We’d never tolerate this at school where year 13’s are doing some quite advanced work – far more so than they were in year 9. Sometimes we lose our older teens because youth group has become boring to them. Allow them to do different Bible studies to the younger ones. Make these more challenging and in depth and you’ll reap the benefits of the older teens staying round and growing in their faith.
6. Believe in them and encourage them
As you make your focus developing leaders from a young age you’ll find they make mistakes, let you down, or not rise as well to the challenge as you’d hoped. The temptation may be to cast them aside and look for someone else, but I contend that if I appoint someone to a leadership role and they are not measuring up then it’s my responsibility. Rather than expect them to change I need to work out what I can do differently to help them want to change. Ongoing confidence in them and frequent encouragement when they do something right are important steps in doing this.
By following these steps you will create a leadership culture in your youth ministry. You won’t necessarily grow to be the biggest youth group in town but chances are a much higher percentage of your young people will go one to lead than if your focus was merely on getting more people through the door.
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