Those involved in leadership in the youth ministry are drawn from a wide range of ages and personalities.
These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to do good. In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. (Titus 2:4-7 abridged)
There is a well-known proverb that says, “it takes a village to raise a child”. It’s based on the conviction that the more insight and experience a young person is exposed to, the more healthy and whole they become.
As with many proverbs that have stood the test of time, it contains a significant element of truth. If we apply the proverb to a youth ministry context, we doubtless want to first affirm that the ultimate source of insight and truth is found in God’s Word and through the guidance of His Spirit. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to fail to recognise that the same Word and Spirit has previously guided others and as such, they have much to teach us.
Having run training seminars for countless youth leadership teams, I am convinced that having a team that has diversity in age and experience is a great asset. It provides young people with the spiritual equivalent of big brothers and sisters, parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents who can all contribute to the task of making disciples.
When we reflect on the fact that our goal is to teach young people to be “lifelong followers of Jesus” we can begin to see the weakness of trying to do this solely through leaders who are only a few years older than the young people themselves. Young adults in their late teens and early twenties can be great role models, showing young people what it looks like to follow Jesus in a culture that makes compromise and distraction all too easy. Young adults are often seen as “cool” in a way that older leaders are can never be, and as such, they can be powerful influencers in teens lives.
But that’s not to say older leaders don’t bring value to leadership. Leaders in their late twenties and on into their thirties are young enough to clearly remember the teen years but also have good life experience and still have plenty of energy. Some may be married and raising young children and can be good role models of what family can look like.
Those in their forties and fifties will have even greater life experience and can bring a parent’s perspective to struggles young people may be facing at home. As young people work through the process of individuation, establishing their own convictions and sense of identity independent of their parents, it can be helpful to put them in relationship with other adults who can either affirm their parents’ convictions or suggest differing, more Christlike, points of view.
“Seniors”, many of whom are entering the grandparent bracket have even greater life experience to share. They often have more free time to be available and to listen, and they bring with them even greater life experience including what it means to stay committed to Christ in the midst of all of life’s challenges and pain.
A youth pastor once called me and asked if I had any resources or articles that affirmed the value of older leaders. He said he had one leader who was doing an outstanding job but was feeling that perhaps he was getting too old. “How old is he?” I asked. “In his seventies”, came the reply! He went on to explain that while this man didn’t lead a small group, he simply turned up when he felt up to it and quietly mingled and talked with the young people who all appreciated him being there.
In my last church we had a group of over senventies who would each have a small group they prayed for. Twice a year they would join the programme and spend time with their small group discussing together some aspect of life and faith.
Having a team that has diversity in age, experience and personality is a great asset.
The first time we did this a woman in her seventies approached me at the end of the evening shaking her head. She had been with a group of fifteen-year-old girls, and said to me, “I can’t believe what these girls have to go through!” She had a small notebook where she had been writing down prayer requests. It turned out a couple of the girls had asked to talk with her after the small group was finished and wanted to share things with her they were reluctant to talk about with their peers or even their small group leader.
The need for diversity in leadership is not confined only to age. Diversity in personality is also a valuable asset. Not all leaders should be outgoing, crazy, super-confident extroverts! As valuable as these people can be, young people also need leaders who are more reflective and prefer talking quietly to an individual in a corner than speaking enthusiastically from the front to a group.
A man in his fifties approached me once and shared a sense of call to be involved in our youth ministry. I met with him and we decided he would come along and sit in with a small group of young teenage boys for a couple of weeks. I had some misgivings about how he would do. He was a quiet man but it had a deep faith and it wasn’t long until his gift of discernment saw him become a great encourager to those young boys and a valuable team member for me. He stayed with those boys right through to when they finished high school.
It is worth noting that there is a tendency for teams to eventually reflect the personality of the key leader. This leader may subconsciously seek people like themselves because they feel more comfortable around them and see their leadership strengths more easily than those who are different. Additionally, prospective leaders tend to get drawn into a ministry that has as its key leader, someone with whom they easily relate to. For these reasons, key leaders need to work hard at developing and maintaining diversity of personality and style among their teams.
Healthy leadership teams will also have diverse gifts. There will be a good mix of visionaries and more practical people so that ideas flow and things get done. There will be those who are good with people and those who are more task-oriented so that young people are cared for and the ministry runs smoothly. The team will have a good mix of people skilled in planning and those good at executing plans. There will be some who are skilled at leading games and others more skilled at leading small groups. Some will be gifted at teaching while others shine at shepherding, and so on.
As you pursue diversity on your team, you may find the goal of unity becomes more challenging, yet it is a challenge worth facing as diverse and united teams are healthy teams and healthy teams tend to develop healthy youth ministries.
CHECKLIST: TEN INDICATORS OF DIVERSE LEADERSHIP
- There are young adults (late teens and early twenties) in leadership roles – people who are good role models for the young people.
- There are leaders in their late twenties and thirties who are good role models for the young people.
- There are leaders in the parent-age group who have life experience and can bring a parent’s viewpoint to leadership.
- There are leaders in the seniors age group who have even greater life experience to share.
- There is a good balance of personality types on the leadership team.
- There is a good balance between outgoing up-front leaders and leaders who excel at quietly drawing alongside individuals.
- There is a good balance between visionary leaders and practical leaders.
- There is a good balance between people-oriented leaders and task-oriented leaders.
- There is a good balance between leaders who are good at planning and leaders who are good at executing plans.
- The leadership team is united, despite any diversity that exists.