When I started my first youth ministry position at the age of 23, I wasn’t ready to be the senior leader of a youth ministry. I’d been a youth ministry volunteer for three years, loved teenagers, and did sense a calling on my life to be a youth pastor. But I wasn’t ready to be a ministry leader.
In ten years of youth ministry, I’ve discovered that my situation is common to many other youth workers. Men and women who love Jesus and maybe have a knack for relating to teenagers are given leadership roles for which they may not be prepared. Now, I’m not suggesting that any of us are ever “ready,” or fully prepared to be a youth pastor. We serve much too big a God for that to be the case.
What I am saying is that it seems like young youth workers are often hired both because of their passion to see teenagers grow in their love and knowledge of God, and their ability to relate to teenagers. They are not often hired because of their ability to lead a ministry.
I’d wager that far too few youth pastors see themselves for what they are: the senior leader of a very important ministry of their church.
Now, your exact role may differ slightly based on your ministry context. But for many youth pastor, your role is probably not to be the best in your ministry at working with teenagers. Your roll may be better understood as leading your ministry and shepherding both the teenagers and families that God has put under you care. That requires more than just a great rapport with students.
Yet, too many of us often accept the job of leading our youth ministries, only to struggle with the “leading” part of the equation.
If this is the position you find yourself in—or if you’re a veteran youth worker who wants to hone your leadership skills—here are some thoughts on growing as a senior leader:
Cultivate Your Relationship With Jesus.
Do not skim over this paragraph just because it’s the most predictable item that could be at the top of this list. It’s impossible to separate your life as a follower of Jesus from your role as a ministry leader. One of the biggest mistakes a ministry leader can make is to focus so much on looking like a leader that he or she forgets to be a follower of Jesus. If you aren’t daily connecting to the Source of life, you won’t be a good leader, no matter how charismatic or gifted you are.
Learn From Great Leaders
I don’t think it’s any secret that many pastors and ministry leaders don’t possess great leadership skills. To be honest, this is an area that I’ve had to grow a ton in. In the past few years, I’ve spent intentional time learning how to be a Christ-centered leader and what it means to lead a ministry or an organization. There are plenty of ways that you can learn from solid leaders: Read books, listen to leadership podcasts, or take a pastor or business leader you respect out to lunch. You can always do something to become a little better at leading your team.
Ask For Feedback (and Welcome Honest Answers)
If there are any fairly obvious deficits in your leadership abilities, chances are the people you lead already have identified them. In my first position as a youth pastor, it was brought to my attention that I was terrible at returning my team’s phone calls and emails in a timely manner. Sure, it stung to hear that, but I’m grateful others had the courage to say something. Invite your team (or your supervisor) to offer suggestions or feedback on your leadership. Thank people when they give you an edifying critique. The people you work with will be the ones who know best how you can improve as a leader.
Lead As a Team
Wherever possible, gather a team around you to help make decisions and set a course for your ministry. This can be done in an informal way (shooting a text to a leader or asking for input over coffee) or in a formal manner (forming a team of people you meet with regularly). There will still be times when as a leader you’ll simply need to make a difficult decision, because that’s a part of your role. But by leading as a team, you’ll utilize more team members’ wisdom, and you’ll create more buy-in for your ministry.
What suggestions do you have for embracing the call to be the real leader of your youth ministry?