Do you know where your leaders are? For years I overlooked one of the most powerful tools in youth ministry and now I can’t help but think how many teens we could have reached if I had paid more attention developing teen leadership.
I know this probably sounds like just one more thing on the “to-do list” for a youth minister who doesn’t even have time to breathe. So before you hit that big red “X” in the top right corner (or the red dot in the top left corner if you are on a Mac), let me explain why peer ministry isn’t just a luxury but really an integral piece of successful ministry. Then let me share some ideas on how to find those leadership teens.
Many of us are far from our teenage years (some more than others) and if we look at the world in which teens live, it is rapidly becoming less and less like the one we remember as teenagers. Remember using a corded phone and having your family “accidentally” listen to your calls? Remember when your friends where the people who lived in your neighborhood or went to your school? Now look at how cell phones, text messaging, Facebook, and online gaming keep them in constant communication with the world while continually expanding their circle of friends. Their world is vastly different from ours. If you’ve ever had to ask a teen for help with technology, you already know this.
No matter how hard we try we’ll never fully understand the teenage world. Teens know that and thankfully most of them will never expect us to. However, they do expect our Life Nights and events to be relevant and connect with the world they live in.
Teens are the most effective way to do this. They can speak to their peers in a way that only teens would understand. To say it simply: Teens can reach teens better than us!
Now I’m not saying use teens as your Core Members. Adults are irreplaceable and should be your primary resource in ministry. I’m also not saying you should just grab any teen and put them to work. But finding those teens with leadership potential and using them in ways that are appropriate to your program is a must in comprehensive youth ministry.
Here is a list of qualities you can use to find those teens. There is no “one size fits all” description of what a teen leader is (or is not), but this is a good starting place.
- Faithful. If we are going to empower teens to lead their peers, we should keep in mind what or who they are leading them towards. Look for the teen who is in love with Christ and His Church.
- Leads Naturally. Many times leaders will naturally start to show their potential. They ask others to be quiet, create a “game plan” during group activities, or may ask to help before, after, or even during Life Night. These teens are a great place to start.
- Aware. We can all use a deeper understanding of the spiritual and emotional impact we have on others. The teens we put in leadership should be aware of themselves and should show maturity in leading their peers.
- Peer respect. Peer respect won’t reveal ability, but it can show character and personality. We know many teens who are popular but we shouldn’t put them in a leadership role for that reason only. Make sure other teens respect them, even if they aren’t always popular.
- People listen to them. When they speak, do people listen? Many people spend lots of time talking but without anyone else really listening to them. Take notice of people to whom others listen.
- Creates or catches a vision. Many times we just need a visionary to inspire us. Look for teens who get inspired and then go the extra mile spiritually. You know, the ones who take Life Night into every aspect of their life for the next week and can’t wait to tell you how it turned out.
- Is practical. A group full of visionaries may not actually accomplish much. Look for the practical teen who will say, “This can work” or “No way!”.
Once you begin, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to single out the leaders, then you have the privilege and challenge of helping to form them as servant leaders. More than anything else, this happens through relationship and example. One of the great gifts of youth ministry is developing new leaders that can (and will) eventually replace you. May God bless your ministry and your teens!