Fine-Tuning Your Youth Ministry Leadership Teams

I receive lots of mail. Some of my favorite mail these days comes from youth leaders who have implemented Youth Ministry Lead Teams. I am pleased that people take time to share their excitement about this new approach to youth ministry. Lead Teams can

  • Empower parents, youth and other youth leaders to do the work of the ministry.
  • Give the youth minister time to reflect on his/her own role.
  • Provide more one-on-one ministry with the teenagers in the youth ministry.
  • Give youth ministers the privilege and satisfaction of working with others as a consultant and encourager.
  • Provide a shared vision to everyone working with students.
  • Increase youth involvement in events that are planned through the Lead Teams.

The spread of Lead Teams in youth ministry has provided broader insights concerning approaches that work well and those that work poorly. The following thoughts may be helpful to those wanting to fine-tune their lead team approach.

A word of caution as you begin: Although lead teams have been a remarkable success in most churches, the approach has failed in a few. I would say the initial meeting where you present the lead team concept is one of the most important variables. If that meeting flounders, getting lead teams off the ground will be difficult.

A few youth ministers have made the traditional bulletin and pulpit announcements and little else. That may not be wise. Lead teams won't work without broad ownership among youth leaders, parents and youth. Because so much is at stake, I would encourage youth ministers to do whatever it takes to get a good percentage of each of those groups to the meeting. It is worth writing personal notes. It is worth visits to homes. It is worth spending Sunday afternoon on the phone. It is worth whatever it takes.

Attendance is a key variable, but the content of the meeting is important as well. The appearance of the meeting room should suggest something important is about to happen. Any handouts should be well-developed. Most importantly, the youth minister's presentation should be carefully prepared. This is no time to wing it. What should this initial presentation by the youth minister emphasize? Consider adapting the following outline to fit your own church's unique situation.

I. We are at a crossroad

  • The needs among our youth and their families demand an expanded ministry from our church.
  • The present way of organizing the youth program makes an expansion of ministries impossible.
  • At present, the youth minister is ultimately responsible for every major youth event or project.
  • The youth minister has no more minutes a week to give to expanded ministries.

II. The youth minister currently is not able to fully express his or her calling in ministry

  • Event preparation requires such a large block of time that other functions of ministry are impossible.
  • The call to be a minister includes a call to provide counseling, support for families in crisis, impact on school campuses, personal evangelism, professional development and other duties neglected by a preoccupation with event preparation.
  • The youth minister has unique gifts that are not being exercised due to inordinate hours given to event preparation. (This list would be unique to the speaker, but might include items such as dramatic arts, outdoor leadership, teacher training, small group discipleship, etc.)

III. The youth minister is called to equip the saints to do the work of the youth ministry.

  • This principle is clearly expressed in Ephesians 4:11-12.
  • Ministers serve to help church members make their (the church members') dreams come true. Church members do not serve to help ministers make the minister's dreams come true.
  • Youth ministers are called to assist the congregation in clarifying its vision and direction for youth ministry, and then equipping and supporting members as they take actions which turn vision to reality.

IV. A new approach

A new approach to youth ministry has emerged that provides an expansion of the church's ministries with youth, allows the youth minister to express his or her calling and unique gifts, and gives the youth minister a practical way to equip the saints for ministry.

  • Presentation of the lead team concept.
  • Discussion and feedback.
  • Decision to move forward.

When the floor is open to discussion, it is helpful if one or two key leaders or parents can speak positively about what they have just heard. Youth ministers may consider making this presentation to one or two folks in their homes prior to the general meeting to help "prime the pump."

Another sure fire way to allow lead teams to fail is neglect. In the few churches where lead teams didn't prosper, I have sometimes sensed that a youth minister set up teams and then left them on their own. This is a mistake. Some youth ministers have been so thrilled to be out from under the load of event management that they have abandoned the process altogether!

Let's say a youth minister has been giving 25 of his 50 hours a week to event preparation. If he creates teams and then quickly claims all 25 of those hours to do other things, the system will probably collapse and he will be right back where he was. If he gives a couple of hours a week to nurturing and supporting the teams, he still has 23 hours a week to commit to new ministries and a more balanced lifestyle. This second approach can last for decades.

Every lead team chairperson needs to feel the full support of the youth minister. Every chairperson needs the following in order to succeed.

  • Quick access to the youth minister
  • Feedback that the youth minister is knowledgeable about the team's general plans
  • Assurance that the youth minister is ready and willing to accept appropriate assignments from the team (Example: Finding and inviting guest leaders for a DiscipleNow Weekend).
  • Continuing expressions of confidence, enthusiasm, and encouragement from the youth minister

Supporting lead teams takes time. But, it takes only a fraction of the time that doing it all yourself takes. Lead teams should assist key leaders in preparing for major events and emphases. They provide a structure for involving many more parents, leaders, and youth in the logistics of preparing for complicated events than would be otherwise possible.

Dr. Richard Ross is a former youth minister and consultant, the co-founder of True Love Waits, and is presently Professor of Student Ministry and J.M. Price Chair of Religious Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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