Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Empower

Posted on by YFC Seattle

By Warren Mainard, CORE & Youth Ministry Network Director

Practice Seven: Youth Group or Youths' Ministry - Empowering Students to Serve, Grow, and Lead

Most people who enter into a career in youth ministry, do so because they are really, really good at doing youth ministry.  You may be creative, funny, engaging, relational and able to lead, plan and speak at an exceptional level. These gifts have been affirmed and students are drawn to you and want to be discipled by you.  While your giftings are a great asset to your ministry effectiveness, they may also be the very thing limiting your long-term impact. Being great at ministry may unintentionally be creating a youth group of fans and consumers instead of a youth’s ministry of disciples and leaders.  Here is a simple formula to help you understand the impact of empowering students in youth ministry -

A student who can do it half as well will be twice as effective.”

While this may not be universally true, it is a helpful reminder that getting students involved in serving and leading will have a much greater impact than simply being the “best in the biz.”  When students have the opportunity to serve and lead, it has a cumulative effect in the youth ministry. First, the student gets the benefits of opportunity and experience that can often be formative in their spiritual growth and the ownership of their faith.  Moving from a passive to active faith and involvement in the youth ministry increases ownership, stokes enthusiasm, and infuses energy into the life of the student. As other students observe one of their peers engaging, serving, and leading, it will often create a longing for spiritual growth and leadership in other students who in turn bring greater excitement to the youth ministry.

When I was very early in my second youth ministry, we had a group of 9 students.  It would have been easy to think that we were far too small to have a student leadership team or for me to delegate leadership responsibilities to students.  In spite of our size, I selected 3 students who had the interest and availability to be a part of a leadership team that met on Sunday afternoons. Each week, I would do a lesson on leadership (often times distilled from books I was reading), and then we would talk about upcoming youth meetings, events and activities.  I would ask for feedback on ideas, give them tasks and responsibilities that fit their desires and gifts, and then let them do it! It wasn’t very long until another 2-3 (of our 9) students observed their peers leading with enthusiasm and they asked to join the leadership team as well. As this happened, students began to invite their friends and our little student ministry began to grow.  We made lots of mistakes and messes during these years, but God was working in our students, expanding their vision and increasing their capacity to live outside of their comfort zones.

In a different youth ministry, our group had grown to about 80 students and I had a student leadership team of about 18 high school students.  I thought it was time for a shake up, so I told the students that they were going to plan the next 4 week youth series on Sunday nights (we were about 6 weeks out).  I said, “It’s all on you guys to come up with a theme, plan the service, promotion, leadership, and the small group sessions.” Then, I gave them 90 minutes and walked out of the room.  After about 30 minutes, two of the girls came storming out of the room, furiously approaching me. Students were angry, frustrated and ready to quit. I came back into the room and reminded the students of the importance of humility, love, support and unity and then walked back out again after a 2 minute pep-talk.  When the 90-minute youth planning session was done, they presented what they had come up with. Everyone had a role and a responsibility and the students were excited about the next series God had led to put together. Was it the best series we ever did? No, not by a long shot. There were lots of gaffes, miscues and muffed assignments, but the students owned it, encouraged each other through it and ultimately grew closer to God and one another.

I recently heard Youth Ministry veteran Tim Eldred put it this way, “We need to move from youth groups to youths’ ministry.” Our job is not to entertain students, but to equip saints.  As Paul explains to the church in Ephesus, God has called us as youth pastors into ministry “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” Ephesians 4:12-13. When we equip and empower students to serve and lead in the church, we set them on a path of maturity, Christlikeness, and love for the local church.

If you are just getting started in youth ministry, it is very tempting to try to produce the most professional youth ministry experience.  However, it is actually when you allow students to serve and lead, even when you could do it better, that you will see real growth. Pray and ask the Lord to lead you as you invite a select group of students into deeper leadership and responsibility.  Be secure enough in yourself and your calling to allow students to step into roles that you enjoy and thrive in. Sometimes, going from great to good is not so bad.

Other Posts in this Series:

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Mentorship

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Parental Guidance

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Balance

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Teamwork

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Be, Know, Do

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Communication

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