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Swimming not drowning

"Let's all try really hard to let the young people do the leading! Don't rescue them from drowning too soon because we want them to discover they can actually swim."

This is the message I sent to our adult youth leaders before a small group session where young people were leading a Bible study for the first time. All of those young leaders had led a discussion before, but this time, the more experienced adult leaders were with them. There's a danger young people will panic and look to the adults, and we will fill the void and start talking and everyone else will relax but we won't grow new leaders.

I'm not saying we want to drop our less experienced leaders in at the deep end all the time, but choose people you trust and you think might be gifted, give them the resources they need and then give them space.

Remember Jesus sent out his twelve disciples:

"When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick."

Luke 9.1-2

Most of us would have been saying, "They're not ready!" Many of us would have limited what they could do: "You can pray for people, but if there is more serious stuff to do, bring them to me." What if they don't have a strong enough faith? What if they don't have the skills? What if they get it all wrong?

We might think we don't do that. This might be a useful test - we can ask ourselves: Do we have young people who sometimes lead games? What about doing talks or leading Bible studies? If we answer 'yes' to the first but 'no' to the second, or 'no' to both, is that because we're not letting young people swim? Jesus sent them out and it worked.

Learning to lead is like learning to swim. I'm better than I was at swimming. I had about 80 lessons before I learnt to swim but I still remember the moment - I pushed off from the side and found I didn't drown. I was swimming. Imagine if I'd learnt to swim by being placed in a lifeboat. It's definitely best that I had a lifeguard around when I was learning (probably still best!) but I learnt to swim by being put in the water and encouraged to kick off from the side. We need to do the same with young people - encourage them, prepare them as best we can, but then put them in the water, stand back and see what God does through them. They will have to rely on him and he will use them, just like he uses us. If I'm honest, when I consider what I was like when I did my first talk or led my first Bible study, I'm astonished anyone let me.

Now I'm still not great at this. Even as I write this blog I realise I rescued a young leader that same night, so I'm still learning but let's keep giving young people opportunities to get out of their depth and we'll find more often than we think that young people will swim and swim really well.

Let's keep Raising the Bar!

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Get more ideas and support for your youth ministry with my book: "RAISING THE BAR: Nearly Everything You Need to Know about Christian Youth Ministry."

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