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Characteristics of a Healthy Youth Ministry: 10. Trained Leaders

Youth leaders are experienced and receiving ongoing training, mentoring and support in their leadership role.

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive His approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)


At times I’m asked why I think I’ve stayed in youth ministry for so long. I think one important reason is that I was well trained. I interned at a church alongside an experienced and capable youth pastor while at the same time enrolling myself in our denominational youth pastors’ training course. The things I was taught and the supportive friendships I developed stood me in good stead for long term service.

A key factor in the effectiveness of a youth ministry is the competency of its leaders. Well trained leaders understand what the role of a leader is, and can effectively run programmes, lead small groups and offer pastoral care. In short, leaders who are trained can do more things right, which benefits young people individually and the ministry as a whole.

The value of the training I received led me in turn to value the need for training for those on my leadership team. In those days there were few resources and courses available and so it was up to me to develop my own training for our leaders.

While this was time-consuming it was well worth the effort. Leaders who are well trained are more capable of handling those situations that can easily lead to discouragement, disillusionment and even the decision to quit. Conversely, when a leader is effective and sees progress, their motivation increases and their desire to stay on as a leader increases with it.

Training is not a one-off event. Effective leaders recognise their need for ongoing training and are continually looking to develop and improve their understanding and skills. As a youth pastor or key leader, your role is to encourage this desire to learn as well as provide opportunities for training to take place. You can do this in a number of ways.

The first is formal training that takes place through seminars and conferences or online courses. Look for events you can attend as a team. Not only do these provide opportunities to learn but they are also inspirational, providing your leaders with a sense of the significance of the task they have a share in. Alternatively, you can run your own training seminars or invite an outsider to do this for you. The advantage here is that you can tailor the training to suit your needs.

As useful as formal training can be, often the best training is more informal and takes place in conversations with leaders as you reflect together on their experiences.

I once led a two-year training programme for youth interns and recall one young man who appeared disinterested through the first ten weeks of training. It wasn’t that he had no heart for ministry; he simply felt he already knew what I was teaching him.

For the second ten weeks of training, we placed the interns alongside an experienced youth pastor so they could learn on the job. This young man came back a changed person. A new humility and teachability was present and when I asked how the practical component had been for him, he confessed that everything he had tried to do had abysmally failed! The informal training that had come through personal experience and reflection proved far more valuable than the formal training of term one.

 If you have a leaders’ meeting after each activity, this is a perfect time for informal team training to take place. As problems and challenges are shared you are able to offer suggestions and guidance.

Discovering something for ourselves brings more profound change than simply being   told it.

Equally, informal training can take place in one to one conversations as you reflect together on what a leader has been doing. Whenever you observe them in a leadership role offer positive affirmation, pointing out what they did right before suggesting something they might work on.

If you’ve not actually watched them lead, such as when they counsel a young person or facilitate a small group, ask questions that will help them reflect on their effectiveness and guide them toward discovering how they might do things better. Understand that discovering something for ourselves brings more profound change than simply being told it. Discovery makes it more likely we will fully “own” and remember it.

The third style of training for leaders is self-directed training. Here youth leaders take responsibility for their own learning, reading books and searching out articles, videos and podcasts on the internet. You can help by offering suggestions and links through social media for them to explore.

Training leaders involves more than providing them with information, believing our job is done. Maximise the input given, by helping your leaders apply what they learn. Require them to state specifically how they will put into practice what they learn and work with them in this implementation phase to help them through the inevitable questions and challenges they will face.

In addition to training, leaders need personal mentoring. You can mentor them through having them watch you lead and learning from what you do. Again, don’t rely on observation alone, but ask good questions and help them understand not only what you do, but why.

Ensure leaders are also mentored in the areas of personal life and faith.  You may take this on yourself, asking them regularly about their own personal growth, or this can be delegated to older members of the congregation whom leaders themselves choose. This mentoring, along with training, helps leaders feel supported and valuable, both of which are essential for longevity.

When we had youth interns in our ministry, I would take responsibility for mentoring them in ministry but would always encourage them to find an older person in the congregation with whom they could talk about their personal and spiritual life. Some of these mentoring relationships were so worthwhile that the interns opted to keep them going after their internship was over.

All of the above needs to be true, not only for our teams but also for us as the youth pastor or key leader. What formal training have you had and is it sufficient? What plans do you have in place to continually upskill and grow in knowledge? Who is mentoring and supporting you in your leadership role?

Reflecting on these questions and taking action, improves your leadership; it contributes to the overall health of the ministry.


CHECKLIST: TEN INDICATORS OF EFFECTIVELY TRAINED LEADERS

  • Leaders are receiving adequate training for the role they are called to perform
  • Each leader has a mentor who helps them reflect on their experiences and encourages them to grow in their faith.
  • Leaders understand the value of training.
  • Leaders are given feedback about their performance including suggestions on ways they can improve.
  • Leaders are taught to reflect on their leadership and learn ways they can become more effective.
  • Leaders receive information on suggested resources such as books, websites podcasts etc that enable them to participate in self-directed training.
  • Training of leaders includes some accountability that ensures that they not only understand what they are learning but are putting it into practice.
  • Rather than criticism or condemnation when they fail, leaders are supported and helped to improve.
  • The youth pastor or key leader are setting a good example in their efforts at ongoing training and leadership development.
  • Leaders have a realistic understanding of their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses.