For a long time, youth ministry was seen as a stepping stone.
You know what I’m talking about.
I don’t know of any youth pastor that hasn’t been asked by a well-meaning church member, “So, how long until you start working with adults?” Or they’ll ask the dreaded, “How long until you become a real pastor?”
That one hurts!
Fortunately – thanks in large part to guys like Duffy Robbins, Doug Fields, and Reggie Joiner, along with ladies like Kara Powell and Kenda Creasy Dean – youth ministry is being taken more seriously today and youth pastors are seeing their role as more significant that just a stepping stone toward becoming a real pastor one day.
There’s no place for complacency
But that doesn’t mean youth pastors should become complacent. Just because you don’t plan on becoming a Lead Pastor or a Senior Pastor one day doesn’t mean you should rely on the talents and skills that brought you this far.
I wish this went without saying, but it doesn’t. I know youth pastors who haven’t read a book in over 10 years. They’re content where they are; they don’t plan on going anywhere, so they don’t see the point of developing their leadership skills or working on their ministry programs. They just keep doing the same things year after year.
Instead of taking that approach – the complacent approach – you have to take every opportunity you can to grow as a leader in youth ministry. That’s true whether you plan to stay in your current church in your current role or move on at some point in the future.
In their book, Great Leaders Grow, Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller explain, “Growth brings energy, vitality, life, and challenge. The people I meet who aren’t growing are also the ones who find life and their jobs boring. Without growth, we’re just going through the motions” (pp. 33-34). Note: This post is largely indebted to that book.
The contrast is stark…
If you make an effort to grow as a leader, you will be rewarded with positive results. If you don’t grow as a leader, you will stumble along, complaining about all the things you can’t change, until your influence evaporates.
I think most of you would agree with that. After all, you’re reading this. You want to learn. You want to grow. You want positive results.
But how do you know what will actually help you, and what’s a waste of time?
I hope this list helps you decide…
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4 Ways You Can Grow as a Leader
1. Gain Knowledge
Every leader might not be a reader, but every leader must be a learner. In particular, there are 3 areas in which you must gain knowledge:
One of the best ways to learn about yourself is to take assessments. For instance, the Strengths Finder Assessment is based on the work of Donald Clifton, Marcus Buckingham, and Tom Rath. It identifies the areas where you have a natural aptitude and will likely make your greatest contributions.
When I learned that my top 5 strengths are Input, Learner, Achiever, Maximizer, and Individualization, it brought great clarity for why I approach people and tasks the way I do. I’ve been able to operate in my sweet spot more consistently because of that information.
To be a leader, you must continually learn about the people you work with, as well as the people you’re trying to reach. You can do this with a simple combination of personal conversations and observation. When you drive around your town, notice what’s going on. What’s going on at the schools? Which stores that are closing down? Which stores are opening up? Which radio stations are the most popular among teenagers? Which apps are most popular?
When it comes to your volunteers, what makes them feel most appreciated? In their book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Gary Chapman and Paul White explain how different people feel appreciated in different ways. For some, a gift card will do. For others, a handwritten thank you note means much more than a $50 gift card. It’s important that you learn who appreciates what.
c. Youth Ministry
You need to pay attention to trends that are happening in youth ministry. You don’t want to invest money in projectors and screens when widescreen TVs will give you higher picture quality at a cheaper price. That’s a shift that has happened in the last few years. Many people who weren’t paying attention are still shelling out hundreds of dollars every year to keep the old way going.
I still talk to youth pastors who aren’t members of Download Youth Ministry. My one question for them is: What are you waiting for?! It’s the best value around.
Invest in good resources, buy books, go to conferences, and work on your skills. You don’t just want to be a good youth pastor. You want to be the best youth pastor in your town. The only way to do that is to keep learning and gaining knowledge about best practices in youth ministry.
2. Reach Out to Others
As I share in Your First 90 Days in a New Youth Ministry, one of the best things you can do to grow as a leader is to visit other churches in your area. This accomplishes 2 things: you get to see what other people are doing, and you make some friends who are also in ministry.
Just don’t show up unannounced. Send an email to the youth pastor a few days before you show up. They’ll appreciate the heads-up. When you visit another church, be sure to take notes on what they do well and what they do poorly. You’re not in competition with those churches, but you can learn from what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
If your schedule doesn’t allow you to get to other churches because your ministry is meeting at the same time as theirs, that’s okay. Give the other youth pastor a call and them to meet you for breakfast or coffee. Better yet, ask them if you can stop by their church and check out their student space. While you’re there, talk to them about what’s working and not working for them. The insights I’ve gained from those kinds of meetings are worth more than a ticket to a 3-day conference.
Be sure to send a follow-up email thanking the person for meeting with you.
Also, don’t forget about social media. You can follow other ministers and ministries on Twitter and Instagram to keep an eye on what’s happening in your community and around the country.
3. Open Your World
Blanchard and Miller suggest, “Be on the lookout for experiences inside and outside of work that will make you a better leader over time” (Great Leaders Grow, p. 78).
Inside of work, you can open your world by:
* having lunch with a coworker
* helping another ministry leader
* shadowing the pastors for a wedding, funeral, or hospital visit
Outside of work, you can open your world by:
* finding hobbies
* developing friendships
* saying yes to random opportunities
I especially want to encourage you to say yes to random opportunities. So many times our default stance is to fall back into regular routines. We say no to the things that could really open our world. Say yes.
4. Walk Toward Wisdom
Proverbs 4:7 says, “Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!” (NLT).
Wisdom doesn’t come overnight. It’s a process, so be patient. Two things you can do right away:
a. Get Honest Feedback
Ask the people who work with you to give you honest feedback to 3 questions:
* What should you start doing?
* What should you keep doing?
* What should you start doing?
b. Seek Counsel
Blanchard and Miller say, “Counsel is often derived from the experience of the person you’re talking with. You get to benefit from their experiences” (Great Leaders Grow, p. 100).
Two key questions you can ask are:
* What do you know now that you wish you had known 10 (or 20) years ago?
* If you were me, what would you do?
If you’re serious about being a leader in youth ministry, you have to grow.
Specifically, you have to:
Reach Out to Others
Open Your World
Walk Toward Wisdom
In the words of Blanchard and Miller, “Your capacity to grow determines your capacity to lead” (Great Leaders Grow, p. 116).
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