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Mastering Leadership in Youth Ministry

The key to successful and practical leadership.

Structuring your leadership in youth ministry can be a tricky task. Ideally, you’d have a youth pastor or minister in place who oversees the entire youth ministry. You’d also like to have some adult leaders and maybe some student leaders, along with some other adult and student volunteers.

Perhaps Adult Leaders and Student Leaders are actually “leading” something or are “in charge” of something. Maybe they’re the ones doing the actual personal ministry. Perhaps the Adult Volunteer and Student Volunteers are not necessarily “leaders”, but they’re just serving in other ways, such as helping with operating the technical aspects or setting up chairs.

With teenagers, it can be tricky to stick them in a place of authority because sometimes that authority goes straight to their heads. They become demanding of everyone whom they lead or “serve over”. I’m speaking from experience, I was once that teenager who was in charge of something and demanded a lot from those “under me”.

How do we structure the leadership in our youth ministry? How do we encourage, teach and empower our students to become leaders? How do we teach them to lead as Jesus lead, or more specifically, serve how Jesus served?

Perhaps we have things a little backwards. Perhaps we want to teach our students how to serve in order to teach them how to lead.

Some youth ministries will say that’s exactly what they do, because they have the youth pastor and they teach those under the youth pastor to serve the youth pastor and they teach those under them to serve those that are under the youth pastor. But this is still a bit upside down, at least according to the way Jesus served.

Jesus said he did not come into the world to be served, but to serve. But he’s the son of God. There’s no one in the universe (aside from God the Father) who is worthy to be served by Jesus. We’re not even worthy to serve Jesus, let along be served by him. And yet, Jesus served people, and did expect anyone to serve him.

So what if you structure your leadership in your youth ministry with five basic groups, all stacked on a pyramid? What if those five groups consisted of:

1) Youth Pastor (or head of the youth ministry)
2) Adult and Student Leaders (those leading, overseeing, or shepherding)
3) Adult and Student Volunteers (those helping in various ways, but not necessarily leading)
4) All Students who are professed believers (because of the priesthood of all believers)
5) All other students who are yet to be reached.

Each of those five groups should be assigned their individual and specific jobs and tasks. They should have obtainable but clear expectations. For example a student volunteer who runs the sound is expected to make sure the sound is working well and sounds good. A student leader who oversees all media aspects is making sure that all of the media aspects, such as sound, video, lights, etc are being covered by another individual and filling in as necessary. An adult leader whose role is to shepherd a group of 9th grade boys is expected to do just that. An adult volunteer who sets up the chairs, etc.

However, for this whole leadership thing to properly work, on top of doing the tasks that they are assigned to do, each of those five groups of people is serving the group above them. On top of doing their assigned tasks, their job is make sure that the people above them have everything that they need in order to do their jobs.

Take a look at this diagram.

Before you saw the diagram, you may have been thinking of something a little different as I was describing it. Don’t worry, you’re seeing this diagram correctly.

Imagine the Youth Pastor, although in charge of the entire youth ministry, at the bottom of the pyramid. Although the youth pastor should be respected by all as the leader, it is the youth pastor’s job to serve the Adult Leaders and Student Leaders, making sure they have everything that they need in order to do their jobs. Not the other way around. Then, it is the job of the Adult Leaders and Student Leaders to make sure that the Adult Volunteers and Student Volunteers have everything that they need in order to do their jobs. Then it is the job of the Volunteers and/or the Leaders to make sure that the believing youth have everything that they need in order to do their jobs.

By the way, you are not assigning any jobs to the believing youth. If they aren’t serving as a volunteer or a leader, they already have a job assigned by the Bible – ministering to others. Inviting their friends, serving the lost, sharing their faith.

The three groups underneath “Believing Students” are entrusted with the responsibility of equipping the Believing Students to do those tasks.

Then, it is the task of the Believing Students to serve the non-believing students. Obviously, the non-believing students have no assigned job or task, but instead, they are being served by the other four groups in order to be won over by Christ’s love.

Imagine one youth pastor serving 12 adult and student leaders, who are serving a total of 12 volunteers, and each of those 24 individuals are working together to serve 144 believing students and each of those believing students are personally serving and ministering to three non-believing friends. That’s 432 non-believing individuals being ministered to and served plus 144 believing students being discipled and served.

This upside down pyramid is used to show the way that service should flow. And since serving is flowing upwards, that is why it is just as important to make sure you have a solid foundation. The bottom of the pyramid is much smaller than the top, and in order to support the top, it requires a foundation in Christ. On each level of the pyramid, it is vitally important that each individual has a solid foundation in Christ in order to serve and support the larger level above them. And, as the service is always flowing upward, all levels of the pyramid will be pointing their service toward God.