Jesus was keen on leadership development. He selected a varied bunch of people. He spent time with them. He wept with them. He taught them. He encouraged them. He challenged them. He gave them opportunities that were often totally beyond them. He prayed for them. Then he left them and they led a movement that changed the world. It's vital that we too, as leaders, develop other leaders in order to change the world for God's glory.
This will take time. God has a plan for every person. Their gifts, time and talents may only be in our ministry for a short season, and that’s OK. Helping people find where God has made them to serve is a really positive thing, even if it's not with us! We need to treat them as a gift that we get to hold lightly for a season. That season can still be immensely valuable, as part of their journey of discovering their calling. Some leaders may take a long time to get going, needing time to build confidence, or for past hurt to heal, allowing them to get more involved - that's OK too.
How do we find new leaders?
Take a step back and look!
Reg Mead and Richard Miles spent 30 years searching a field on the island of Jersey. Then they found 69,347 Roman and Celtic coins buried there, worth £10 million (BBC News, 2020). Leaders are valuable. Are we spending time searching for them? [Hopefully it won't take 30 years, but maybe for the next Jackie Pullinger or Billy Graham, it would be time well spent].
Sometimes I don’t find new leaders, because I am too busy doing my stuff for this week, not thinking about next week, next year or when I leave (and most of us will leave fairly soon if we look at the statistics).
Start with the heart
"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16.7b)
Who loves Jesus and is on a journey closer to Him? Who comes to life around the youth? Who talks to young people? Who, in the last year, has sought to encourage you and the young people, or who have been really encouraged by what you’ve been doing.
Adults need to want to serve and our job is a LOT easier and more fun if our co-leaders want to be there. So, recruiting the right people is key.
Look for people who are not at all like you now
a. Not at all like you
Get people with good hearts who are nothing like you! That tension will make the group better. Age is NOT a limit. Young people want authenticity and honesty more than skinny jeans and cool glasses.
If we have been in youth ministry a while, we should have grown in faith and skills. Jesus didn’t choose the finished article. Read the end of Matthew 28. Who did Jesus give the Great Commission to? Verse 17: “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Jesus put leading the early church in the hands of doubters! Competency is really important, but the longer we go on in youth ministry, by the grace of God, the better we get. We are looking for growing potential.
Culture is key
Share your vision for the ministry and give potential leaders time to experience the culture of the youth group. Give time for you and the young people to grow in trust for leaders, before throwing them into anything too controversial (relationships talk!) or pressurised (mentoring for a year). Choose reliable, approachable and helpful leaders, rather than dangerous ones. You don't want a leader whose mess you have to keep tidying up and who doesn’t respect your role or group rules.
What we model is what we grow. If a youth leader feels valued, listened to, and seen as a whole person (not just a gap-filler), they will model that culture to the young people, and the young people will see something that they want to be part of.
Growing your leaders
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." (1 Cor.12.4-6)
Where do we start in getting young people or adults involved in leadership?
1. Teach about spiritual gifts. If people don't know they have any, how are they going to serve with them?
2. Go broad on opportunities to get people involved: not just leading children’s work or playing in the band. One young person finds me illustrations.
3. Give general opportunities for service. Have regular 'all-play' times. "We've finished 5 minutes early, and we're going to clear up this building in the next five minutes. Go!" Watch who steps up.
4. Identify gifts. A girl took part in a small group Bible study, then fed back in the most remarkable, insightful way. After the group, I said, "Have you ever thought that God may have given you the spiritual gift of teaching?"
5. Give specific opportunities and they can be stretching. To find intercessors, try saying, "We're all going to close our eyes and someone who is not a leader is going to pray for us." Don’t be afraid to give a busy person a big, challenging ask. But also don’t always feel you’ve got to sign people up to twice a week for the next five years. We all probably need more helpers on socials, visiting speakers and testimony-givers. Invite people in and see what happens. I asked a retired man to come on our Youth Week Away. He was energised by the experience and is now leading a small group who love having deep discussions.
6. Set people up to win. Help them. Prepare with them. Guide them. Encourage them. Think about your team’s confidence in equal measure to their skills – create opportunities to build up, encourage, gently challenge/correct, and ultimately grow them in their walk with Jesus, for their own benefit and for that of the youth ministry. People are more likely to try things if they feel safe.
7. First of all, let them fly on a short string. You may be used to reading at the front or leading a game. They aren't.
8. Then let them fly on a long string. Give people real opportunities, and keep on trying, even if people don't step up straightaway.
9. Then just let them fly.
10.Have great expectations, and not just of the keen ones. People will rise to those expectations in ways that as yet you can only dream of.
Bea Ellaby is Youth Pastor at Christ Church, Abingdon.
Find out more about discovering and growing leaders in Dave's book: 'Raising the Bar: Nearly everything you need to know about Christian youth ministry'. Buy the book here.
Last Supper picture by Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.