Developing leaders is crucial in the progression of the church. Leaders at various levels–children’s ministry leaders, student leaders, adult leaders–provide a foundation for the church as a whole. Investing in leaders is one of the best way to strengthen the church. These are some best practices to consider for both student leaders and adult leaders.
Building leaders, especially student leaders, takes time and patience. Some students progress faster than others. However, the development of student leaders isn’t about efficiency or quantity, it’s about developing in each individual the gifts and challenges God has placed before them.
- Support structure for student leaders
Within the Sharing Life concept, the 5th degree involves adults and youth serving together in ministry. Involving adults as mentors provides space for wisdom from the mentors while also allowing the youth to experiment with leadership styles (and face leadership challenges) while having skilled and experienced coaches to help them process the successes and failures with.
These adult coaches also understand core leadership concepts such as vision and values, and guide the students in those concepts. In both formal and informal settings, the students have opportunities to sharpen ministry and spiritual understandings. Most importantly, the mentors are an affirming presence to the student leaders: they are coaches who are willing to let the student leaders fail, if necessary but who heartily cheer them on when they succeed and encourage them to move forward.
There are also opportunities for the church as a whole to affirm and support student leaders by taking time to show gratitude for their service and acknowledge their work (both individually and as a congregation).
- Bringing together student leaders
Bringing together a group of student leaders encourages the strengthening and sharpening of their gifts. With that common goal, student leaders keep one another accountable and offer one another encouragement in the process. Mentors support and model these group interactions. (We expanded on this in a previous article called “Mentoring and Small Groups”).
Adult leaders are critical to the success of a youth ministry. Without them, the youth ministry structure falls apart. These best practices reflect more on key tools adult leaders require to maximize the effectiveness of youth leaders and youth ministry.
- Making ministry needs very clear
Adults who are involved in youth ministry, have a clear desire to serve and minister to youth. However, sometimes what’s expected of them isn’t clear. Sometimes, they’re told, “Go and hang out with the youth.” While some people may intuitively be able to do that, most need more specific directions such as:
- Have one-on-one conversations with at least 2 youth tonight
- Mentor 1 youth
- Ensure that all the equipment for the games are set up
- Prepare the BIble study lesson for that night
Having a clear understanding of the adult leader’s role helps adults know what needs to be done and by whom.
Youth ministry may or may not be the primary calling for the person involved. Offer specific support that helps the leader understand how this role intersects their personal calling. Understanding personal calling brings integrity: it helps leaders appreciate who God is shaping them to be. It also helps leaders discern whether youth ministry is the right fit for them, or whether another ministry area is more suitable. Assisting in that discernment benefits both the leaders and youth ministry as a whole.
- Casting clear vision for overall ministry
Why do you do what you do? If a youth ministry isn’t able to articulate its vision, it can’t expect its volunteers to know what they’re working towards, how to get there, or how to go about getting there. Having a clear mandate of what the youth ministry is attempting to achieve provides that common focus for everyone. Whether or not the ministry is successful can be discussed in the evaluation/debrief stage. However, there’s little chance of success unless everyone is on the same page. Knowing the purpose and the scope of the ministry ensures everyone can be on the same page. That only happens when the vision is clearly and effectively communicated.
Everyone, no matter his or her age, has something to learn. Providing training opportunities like Today’s Teens for leaders just starting in youth ministry, gives a foundational understanding of what youth ministry is, and sharpens skills already present. More experienced youth ministry leaders should be offered other leadership opportunities (such as a regional event or a camp) to encourage, refresh and sharpen them.
It’s not just about what leaders know and do in youth ministry itself. Hopefully leaders are continuing in personal faith formation through ministries at your church, whether by being mentored/discipled, taking adult Sunday school classes, or through Bible study. Provide those opportunities to grow adults deeper in their faith outside of the youth ministry scope.
Adult leaders want to know they are valued. They don’t get involved for prestige or recognition for a job well done; they are there because they want to see students grow deeper in Christ. Along with the suggestions above, ensuring they are valued as an individual and for their contributions is key in volunteer care.
These are some best practices for developing leaders. What else do you do?