It won’t be long before we transition from summer camp and mission trips back to the regular pace of the school year in youth ministry. The start of the fall semester provides an opportunity to regroup with our youth ministry teams.
We asked our Rooted writers to share encouragement and practical suggestions for training lay leaders to serve teenagers. We hope their responses will be helpful as you equip your team to share the grace of the gospel with the teenagers of your church!
On Tuesday, July 19 at 1:00 CST we’ll be hosting our next Rooted Webinar on “Building a Youth Leader Team.” Panelists Connor Coskery, Terrence Shay, and Syler Thomas will share their experiences and insights about equipping lay leaders in different contexts. There will be an opportunity to brainstorm together as well as time for Q&A with Terrence, Syler, and Connor. We hope you’ll join us!
, Youth Pastor at First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux Falls, SD
I have three important steps for training and empowering lay leaders in my youth ministry. First: Model. Second: Get out of the way. Third: Follow-up.
The best way to train leaders is to model what you want them to do, and explain why you’re doing it. Our leader meetings always involve Bible study. As I lead the group, I am intentionally modeling how I want them to lead their groups. But I am also providing commentary. I spend 2-5 minutes setting up the passage we will study. Then I explain to them why I shared what I did and how it prepares the group to understand the passage better. They have had the opening to a Bible study modeled for them. I ask the group open ended questions instead of closed ones, while pointing out what I am doing. I will try not to do more than 30% of the talking and will point out to them why I’m not doing it. All leaders will step into the Bible study leader role having participated in the very thing they are trying to lead.
Second, I need to get out of the way. When it’s time for the leaders to be active, I need to let them be themselves. It is tempting to step up and lead and teach everything. But I need to actively get out of the way. My arrogance may convince me that things would be better if it were done my way, but that’s foolishness. God loves to work through every servant-hearted leader.
Finally, I need to follow up. After getting out of the way on a youth group night, I need to hear how everyone is doing. So whether it’s later that evening or during the course of the week, I need to touch base with my leaders and hear how things have gone from their perspective. Sometimes when I think things are great, my leaders feel differently. They are discouraged and need some encouragement. Other times there are problems that have come up but I have somehow missed. All three of these things: modeling, getting out of the way, and following up are a constant process for equipping my leaders for the most effective and fruitful ministry possible.
, Student Pastor at Christ Community Church in Little Rock, AR
“Multiply yourself” can sound hyper egotistical, but it’s a chief aim in training our adult leaders. It’s the mentality of Paul (1 Cor 11:1) who, although an apostle, was still a man. On our own, we (usually) can’t reach all the students in our youth group. But we can through our leaders, if we are multiplying ourselves through them.
Practically, befriend your leaders. Open up your home and schedule to them. Accessibility is the key. Put them at ease (1 Cor 16:10) by constructing a culture of “Honest questions, honest answers.” Let them pick your brain. Let them know you. Tell them what you’re reading, what you’re learning about Jesus, where you’re failing, what you’re wanting the youth group to look like in 6 months, 2 years, 5 years, and so forth.
There is nothing wrong with a more programmatic setup of training. But it must be supplemented with (or lesser to) this organic, relational model of training. It’s how Jesus operated, moment to moment, person to person, thought to thought, training to training – and those 11 disciples went on to lead thousands. Let’s be faithful to that process, and leave the result to God’s hands.
, Pastor of Youth and Families at First Congregational Church of Hamilton, MA
Each week on the back of my church’s bulletin, alongside the names of our pastors and staff members, we print the words “the people of God, ministers to the world.” As congregationalists, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is a high value for us. But these words are true for all Christians, regardless of tradition or church polity. God’s people are ministers to the world and ministers in our churches. As those who have been called to serve the church vocationally, our job is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12-16). As a youth minister, this means you must work to build a ministry that is bigger than you!
As we recruit teams of adults who love Jesus and love teenagers, we should reject the notion of a one-size-fits-all approach to youth ministry. Many smaller churches don’t have a deep bench of spiritually mature 20-somethings who fit the stereotypical mold of a culturally relevant youth leader. What we do have are empty-nesters, stay-at-home parents, and older folks—many of whom would make fantastic youth leaders. Look for godly, warm adults who represent a range of ages and interests. (Make sure to vet them through an established process for the sake of safety and boundaries.) Then spend time equipping and encouraging them.
Teach them about youth culture and the way teenagers today think. Provide practical tools for Bible study and small group. Take note of their gifts, whether hospitality or leadership or teaching, and then find ways to unleash them to serve at their highest capacity—even stepping back yourself in order to let Christ shine through others. Most of all, help your adult leaders catch a vision for teenagers to hear and experience the good news of the gospel each week in youth group. Once we have some momentum with these adult leader teams, we can also begin to train and empower student leaders in a similar way.
The church is people—not a building, a program, or a pastor in an office. When our youth ministries reflect this, they will flourish and the gospel will bear fruit!