One afternoon, our youth ministry organized a service day for our teenagers at a local food bank. Mark, a sophomore in high school, was one of the students who had been assigned to ride with me. As we walked to the parking lot together, he asked if John, a youth leader on our team, was coming.
When I told him John wasn't able to make it to that event, Mark replied, “That's too bad. He has a lot cooler music in his car than you do.”
While some in that situation might have been offended, I wasn't. I was grateful. Mark was a pretty unique teenager, and while I enjoyed hanging out with him, no one on our team could connect with him like John.
You probably have a similar story in your youth ministry: There's a student you've never really been able to connect with, but who really has a great relationship with another leader. If you think your students, you’ll likely notice that certain students tend to gravitate towards certain leaders because of their personality, background, or age.
If students tend to connect with leaders they can identify with, what does that say about the kind of team of leaders we should be building?
As you build and lead your team, do you put much thought into the fact that a more diverse team will be able to serve a more diverse group of teenagers? In case it's not something you've every considered before, here are three things to keep in mind as you build your team:
Make an effort to recruit leaders who are unlike you.
You probably already know that the best way to recruit leaders is to invite them personally. The problem is that our default mode is to invite leaders who tend to be like us. If we only recruit leaders to our team who are like us, then we’re in danger of building teams who can connect only to teenagers who are like us. Get the picture?
To serve a diverse team of teenagers, we need to invite people who are not like us to be on our team; people who might have different tastes in music, different personalities, different experiences, and so on.
Think about the kinds of teenagers God might be calling you to reach.
Chances are, your goal as a youth pastor is to reach teenagers. But have you ever stopped to think about what kind of teenagers God is asking you to reach? Maybe God is asking you to start focusing more on the teenagers in your church's neighborhood—and those teenagers might not think, act, and look just like you. How can you add members to your team that can connect with those teenagers and their families? It might be as simple as adding some leaders who can help you reach those kids who skateboard in your church parking lot after school. Or the changes to your team might be deeper (and more difficult), such as looking at the racial diversity of your neighborhood as compared with the racial diversity of your leadership team. It could be that God is asking you to reach teenagers near your church that you have ignored for far too long. Does the diversity of your team reflect your desire to reach those teenagers?
Pray for (and invite) leaders who are better at youth ministry than you.
This might be hard to hear, so I'll say it quickly and be grateful that I won't be in the same room as you read this: You aren't the best small group leader, or Bible study teacher in your church. In fact, depending on your church, you may not even be in the top five. I recently sat in on one of our high school small groups. One of the adult leaders masterfully led a thirty-minute discussion about “tough questions” for a group of mostly freshman boys who rarely sit still the other six days of the week. By the end, I had a realization: This guy is far better at this than I'll ever be.
Thankfully, my church didn't hire me to be the best small group leader on our team. It's not in my job description, as far as I can remember. And it's probably not in yours, either. Our job as youth pastors is to create an environment where high school students can meet Jesus and grow in their relationship with Him. A big part of that is building a team of youth leaders who may actually be better at relational ministry, or leading a Bible study that we are. ☺
Certainly there are more factors that determine how you build a diverse team.
Which factors do you focus on?