Friday, February 15, 2013

From mistakes... tips for youth leaders

Lets be honest, most youth ministries could not run well without volunteer leaders. With out a good leader core, youth pastoring becomes extremely difficult. yes, there are some youth pastors who can do everything themselves or those whose group is too small to warrant the need for multiple leaders, but for the most part, good youth leaders are a commodity that most of us youth pastors cannot overlook.

Here's to you!

 Here's to you! to the ones who work hard at every youth event and actually enjoy it without getting paid. To the ones who work 8 hours during the day and still find the time to lead a small group or show up at one of their groups game or recital. To those who stay up with you during lock ins, or all nighters. To those who give up weekends of relaxation to go with students to a retreat, camp or conference. To the ones who pray for their teens outside of church. to the ones who go out of their way to be there for a hurting student. To the ones who make everyone feel welcomed! To the ones who remember birthdays, graduations or special events. To the ones students know have their back no matter what. To the ones that are never thanked enough. You are our heroes and we thank you!

 Someone once said (it may have been John Maxwell) if you think you are a great leader, but no one is following you, then you've actually just gone on a long walk. For us youth pastors, the first group of people that we need to see standing behind us as we lead is our team of volunteers. With out you youth leaders, most youth pastors would be incredibly limited in what they could do or the number of students that could be impacted by the Gospel. You give up so much because you think you can make a difference and because someone in your past may have done the same for you and know you are following in their footsteps. Good youth leaders are a rare breed indeed!

   There is nothing more exiting than sitting with a youth leader team and dream about where we are taking the youth group. Nothing more powerful than when a team is united in prayer for the lives that darken our doors every youth event night. There's an energy that is built, a momentum that is set in motion when all the gifts or very different people are pooled into one vision that makes youth ministry so fantastic! It almost feels like...Heaven.

Being part of a great team.

  You showing up and helping all the youth pastors is really 90% of the work, so, for the 10% here are some tips to make you and the rest of your youth leader team extra successful:

1) Be part of the vision.

     We youth pastors tend to pray (at least the good ones do) and we believe that the Lord guides us in every decisions that we make with regards to the overall picture of the ministry. When this happens we usually get a vision; a picture of where the Lord needs us to focus or what He wants this youth group to accomplish. This vision could be for a semester or for a year, or it can be an ongoing thing. Your task as part of the team is to help us hammer out the details. To wrestle with the ideas about this vision, voice your concerns and objections and to provide insight into things we, in our fallen nature, may have miss understood or missed all together. One thing we don't need is "yes"-men to stroke our egos, nor do we need opposition for the sake of causing arguments. If you see something wrong, then don't stay silent! To not warn your team about a possible disaster, is sin! you are endangering the development of the faith and souls of the students.
     Once we've worked out most or all of the kinks out of the vision, then you must help us to spread it out into the student masses. This means that you must learn and memorize everything there is to know about the vision, eat it, sleep it, breath it, so when a person asks "what's youth group all about?" you'll be able to answer with ease and enthusiasm. Nothing makes students (and parents) more exited about a youth group than one that has a clear vision. (we'll discuss how to build one in another blog)Also, when you are tired, when you feel like if you are not making a difference it will help you remember the big picture. Remember the words of the scripture "without vision, people perish."

2) Always have the youth pastors/ youth leader's back.

This means that if you hear a student, parent, church attendee, fellow leader, former leader, or angry grandma speak ill of your team members and pastors or if you hear rumours (cause those never happen at church, right?) being spread, it is your duty as a team member to stand up for your team and leader. Even if you may agree with what is being said, you do a disservice to the rest of the team if you start joining the fracas. why? because it can be perceived that there is division amongst the ranks of the youth team and division makes people nervous. It makes parents suspicious and that is an environment where rumours and lies can fester and grow to kill the ministry. No, rather than showing your disapproval publicly, defend the group publicly and then if its an important enough issue, go and speak directly with your youth pastor or team. They will respect you for it and will do the same in return.

  Pastors are not perfect, we are just like everyone else and can make mistakes without knowing it. Having a team where trust is at its core, where we all know we can disagree or confront each other with issues freely is priceless. Sometimes, we youth pastors are too busy looking at the grand vision that we don't notice that we're stepping on peoples toes and we need our teams to help us become aware. If you hear a rumour, then either squash it right there with the truth, with kindness or direct the person telling you to speak with your youth pastor. When facing a rumour, containment and eradication are key. Stop the rumour from spreading by asking "who did you hear this from?" then try to find the source, also try to do this away from any youth or parents. Eradication means that you go to the source and set them straight with the truth. Better yet, make your youth pastor aware of where the source is and they will deal with that issue and be glad you told them. Nothing kills a good vision like a rumour.

3) Constantly look for recruits!

 Most churches, not all, are marked by this great deficiency: 20% of the people do the work for the other 80%. Recruitment and retention of volunteers is increasingly difficult in the western church because of our consumer mindedness. Most people feel that since the weekend is their time off from work, that getting involved as a volunteer will take away from their leisure time, but they never question how the programs they take in (small groups, sunday school, sunday service, youth, etc) a organized and run. Then there is cross ministry competition for any good volunteers, which means that sometimes other ministries will, for lack of a better term, head hunt each other's key volunteers because its easier than training a new volunteer or ministries go with a skeleton crew: just enough people so that the ministry stands up. barely.

 What is interesting to note is that the role of recruitment has always fallen on the head of the ministry, which adds another duty to their already full dossier. However, what if current volunteers recruited 1-2 people a year? what if they kept an eye out for people among their social spheres within the church and actively looked for new volunteers? You could double the size of any team rapidly! and if it became part of the churches' culture? then everyone who attended would be connected in some way to a volunteer position. no more, competition, cold calls, bulletin announcements, verbal announcements or desperate cries for help!

   You as a youth leader know what kind of people will fit the needs of your team the best. remember, you need to look for the right people not the best people! just because they have talents does not mean that they should be part of your team. They must fit effortlessly. There is nothing more frustrating than working with a person who rubs the everyone the wrong way and there is nothing more difficult for a youth pastor to do than to have to remove a volunteer from the team because they just don't fit. It would be advisable for the youth leaders and the youth pastor to hammer out a "volunteer description" so that you all know what kind of person you should be on the look out for. This includes graduating or former students.

How do you get people in your social sphere to volunteer (hey that rhymes!)?

a) Ask with enthusiasm! people want to join something fun and worth while. tell them the vision (see why you should know it?) and how much impact its having on you.
b) Make them feel wanted, not needed. Recruiters for Universities with big sports programs go out of their way to make athletes feel like they were specifically picked out of the millions of other candidates to exclusively join their ranks. The good ones can make an athlete feel so wanted that they may even overlook the fact that the University has not won anything since the turn of the century. They never go up to an athlete begging and say "we are so desperate we'll take anyone, even you! Can you please just help? <tear>" of course they don't! They say things like "we have a fantastic opportunity for you! we unanimously believe that you have what it takes to be part of our team and help us reach the next level of success!" did you see the difference?
    when you ask a friend or person in your social sphere to be a volunteer make them feel WANTED like your pastor and fellow team members spent hours researching who to approach and they were first choice!
c) Tell them they'll be part of a winning team.
No one likes to be a loser. be it sports, Jeopardy or Family Feud, no one likes to lose. So, when recruiting, use the "wins" your team has accomplished. How many lives were changed at retreat/conference, fun events, outreaches, food drives, stories of kids turning their lives around, etc. you figure this out. Keep it positive.
d) If at first you don't succeed...
If for some reason, they decide to decline your invitation, don't just give up! keep trying. Offer them a no strings attached, trial. Take them on one of your best events and have them tag along and see how amazing your group is! Introduce them to the students, the pastor and the team and get them to give you a hand with some minor stuff. Chances are, they'll fall in love with it and want to come back. (thats how I got recruited and fell in love with YM, hahaha!) Sometimes, people need to see a group in action and winning to want to join.

A Leaders learning is never done

4) Do your best to keep training on becoming a better leader. Youth Ministries are only as good as the leaders who volunteer and if volunteers are poorly trained or receive no training, they will either not stick around, cause the rest great frustration or lose the respect of the students. there are hundreds of books on amazon about being good youth leader, you can access blogs or podcasts from top notch youth pastors that can help you improve. Your youth pastor will do his best to train you but remember that they can only do so much. Check out Simply Youth Ministry for some great tools and tips on how to become an even better youth leader!
Also, don't forget to keep yourself current. keep an eye out for "world" trends that teens are being exposed too. There is nothing sadder than a person trying to engage in conversation with students who are talking about the latest episode of that show they all like or that funny youtube video or even dress 2 fads too late trying to "look" cool to them. Even if you may disagree with the content of the show or magazine, movie or whatever, having a working knowledge of what it is about and then telling a student why you found it offensive or it didn't help your spiritual growth carries a lot more weight to it than telling them its evil to watch or read those things.
     Now, don't go looking at obviously risqué or illicit material! use common sense! If I may add a personal note, I like to watch movies, and shows aimed at teens with a pad of paper and play "find the misquoted bible reference" or "guess who's compromising their beliefs" as I watch and listen to the dialogue I try to find things that are unbiblical, misquotations, bend or break the 10 commandments, misrepresent christianity or christians, and things of that nature. I can use these as sermon/ bible study attention getters and engage students on common ground, letting them see how what they watch affects what they believe. example: I did a sermon titled "the Walking Dead" , a popular show amongst my youth, and I used the premise of a show about Zombies and used it to illustrate that with out Jesus we are all just walking dead. I actually watched the show, its not my cup of tea, but I used something from the world to show the power of the Gospel of Christ. The students got it, some turned their lives to Christ and the Kingdom was furthered. after, some asked if i watched the show and I honestly told them I did and why I didn't like it which led to a good discussion. Keeping yourself current does not only mean reading the latest thing to come out of a Christian bookstore.

4)Lastly, Pray. pray for your students, pray for your fellow leaders, pray for your youth pastor. A youth leadership team that prays is powerful, they can be unstoppable and will see the fruits of their prayers. Sometimes we can get caught up in the preparation of an event or even a retreat that we forget to stop and invite the Holy Spirit to be in our midst. (yes I know he's always there, duh! you know what I mean) You can tell the difference in an event when a group has prayed before and when a team has not prayed. When you take time to pray, when you actually carve out a time specifically for prayer and you follow through and pray for the students and each other, that night usually feels so easy, effortless, like a hot knife through butter. Conversely, if there is a lack of prayer that evening may feel like one small disaster after another, and tensions tend to flare. The event becomes a burden.

Wrapping it up

Pray for your youth pastors at the very least, not only because they are your leaders but because when God grants a vision and said vision  gains momentum and lives are being won for God, the enemy tends to attack the pastors first. with all the fury and dirty tricks he knows. They feel the brunt of that attack and usually deflect the worst of it from you. Pray that the Lord will continue to give them strength of spirit and of body to keep leading effectively. Pray that opposition is decimated by the hand of God and that their families are kept safe from harm or decease so that they will not be emotionally compromised and become ineffective. pray that the Lord give them new ideas and that His voice is never silent in their hearts, minds or ears. Simply Pray.

Today is friday! which means that lots of you will be serving at churches everywhere. Do your best, love those kids like its the last thing you do! keep going for every little thing you do for your youth group does not go unnoticed by our Father. Go and keep reaching, teaching, growing and releasing the next generation of leaders. You guys are my Heroes!

with many blessings!