How Youth Ministers Lead Adults to Lead Teenagers

During my early youth ministry days, I treated leader training like I treat getting my haircut. I dont “schedule” my haircuts—I just sort of get to the point where I start looking a little shaggy and then make an appointment with Sue, who cuts my hair. Similarly, Id have a meeting with my leaders at the beginning of the year, and then Id do it again when it “felt like we needed one.” So every four to five weeks or so, Id send out an e-mail and get together. There was no real structure or planning to it. I could always say that I was just letting the Spirit lead me, but that would be…what do they call that…oh yes, untrue.

Eventually it occurred to me that being deliberate and strategic about training leaders is a must. Its not enough to just recruit leaders to fill a role; they need to be reminded over and over again what the goal of our ministry labor is. Its to make disciples of students. That is, to show students how the gospel implores them to say “yes” over and over again to the grace purchased for us on the cross, and to follow in Jesussteps (1 Pet. 2:21).

Have a Plan for Leading Leaders

Whether you have one or 100 leaders youre managing, abandon the “haircut” model of training and have a plan. Everyone needs vision and training, but perhaps those who work with youth crave it more than anyone. Your leaders need encouragement when they feel rejected (a given for anyone working with teenagers), as well as practical skills for leading young people.

Where can they find help for this? I thought youd never ask! My new book, Small Group Leaders Quick Guide to (Almost) Everything, co-authored with my friend Steven Tighe addresses (almost) everything youd need to know as a small group leader/volunteer for youth ministry.  Let me share a few bullet points, upon which we elaborate in the book.

Leaders Need to Know How to Be a Great Leader

Great leadership starts with the heart and character of the leader. In this chapter, we talk about the different relationships that must be prioritized: your relationship with Jesus, with other leaders, and with students. The most important of these, of course, is your own relationship with God. You cant model for others what you dont have yourself.

Leaders Need to Know How to Plan a Great Small Group

A phrase came to me a couple years back, during a parentsmeeting. I said it out loud as I thought it for the first time. “On the other side of awkward is awesome.” Weve all experienced awkward small groups, but most of us have also seen those same groups grow into awesome ones. That doesnt happen accidentally, but rather takes thoughtfulness, planning, vision, and care. We walk you through different questions to address: whats the purpose of your group? Single gender or co-ed? Multi-age or same grade? How do you balance a focus on community with a focus on content during your group? Finally, we address how to write great questions.

Leaders Need to Know How to Lead a Great Small Group

When its “go time,” volunteers need to know what to do in the moment. How do you handle disruptive students? Quiet students? We introduce you to various folks like Talkie McTalkerson, Bobby the Bump-on-a-Log (whose parents made him come), Willa the Wallflower, and more, and discuss how to engage with those students.

Leaders Need to Know What to Do When Difficult Situations Arise

It was impossible for us to address all of the difficulties that might come up in a small group of teenagers, but we tackled the ones we have experienced the most, from comments about suicide to death to divorce, drugs/alcohol, and matters of sexuality. The bottom line on difficult questions is: When you dont know something, its totally legit to say “I don’t know the answer, but let me think about it, and Ill get back to you.” Students will appreciate the authenticity of that response.

We cover a lot of material, but the book is a quick read at just nine chapters. It may not be the right book for you, but listen: in the words of a funny sign I saw in a restaurant once: “If you dont get food here, please…get food somewhere.” Train your leaders somehow, someway! Dont be like me! Be intentional and strategic about training your leaders, not just when your hair gets in your eyes.

Syler Thomas is a native Texan who has been the student ministries pastor at Christ Church in Lake Forest, Illinois, since 1998. He writes a column for YouthWorker Journal, has had articles published in Leadership Journal and the Chicago Tribune, and is the co-author of two books. Syler and his wife, Heidi, have four kids.

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