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Adult Leaders—the Missing Link

by Bret L. Allen

They were face to face in the corner of the youth room by the time I noticed them—fingers were pointing, arms were waving, and they were talking loudly. A disagreement had surfaced between one of my adult staff and one of my most promising teenage girls. As I approached what was now a full-blown argument, I heard my adult leader say, "You have to listen to me—I’m older and wiser than you." With that, the teenager spun around and left the room. That was the night I realized that adult workers are either an asset or an obstacle in youth ministry.

Today, almost 13 years later, things have changed. I now have 53 well-trained adult workers. Every week I receive praise reports from these adults about what God is doing through them to impact teens. We have come a long way since the incident described earlier. What was the change? How did it occur? How did these adult leaders develop a heart to minister?

ADULT LEADERS ARE NECESSARY

Adult leaders are necessary if you have a growing, high-impact youth ministry. Many youth pastors see the need for adult workers but try to run their program without them. These youth pastors view adult leaders as a threat rather than as sincere individuals who can provide strength and stability to the overall youth program.

Other youth pastors view adult leaders as a necessary evil and feel forced to provide adult supervision for their program. Youth pastors with this attitude are missing a blessing.

Adult leaders provide stability and depth in youth ministry that cannot be achieved without their involvement. Training adult leadership is no different than training any other leadership team. The youth pastor must spend time, energy, and resources to equip adults to lead. Without this investment, adult leadership will be ineffective or counter-productive. The leadership of the youth pastor determines the effectiveness of adult leaders.

Adult leaders can bring much to a leadership team, but many youth pastors confine their adult leaders to one of the following three areas:

1. Van drivers. Several youth ministries use adults to provide rides to camps, retreats, and conventions. With nothing more to do than occasionally driving a van, the adult worker eventually becomes bored and quits because he or she is not involved in the heart of the youth ministry.

2. Discipline. Many youth ministers only utilize adult workers to help keep order in the weekly youth service. Training young people to behave in a worship service is only effective when it comes from the youth pastor. In almost 6 years at my church, I’ve never had to remove a young person who was disturbing the flow of the service or my message. The key is to be direct, firm, and consistent when it comes to correction. Consistency will keep the group under control and cause newcomers to conform to the norm of your service.

Young people live in a world without boundaries. Many students’ lives are void of leadership, discipline, and order—things they desperately need. It is unfair to ask adults to come to youth service and be responsible for policing the youth. This is not ministry—it’s a frustrating and thankless job. Too often youth pastors have other adults handle discipline because they want to remain popular with the teens. If popularity is your goal, may I suggest a career change? Teens will love and respect you as their leader when you demonstrate honesty and love them unconditionally.

3. The big-event mentality. Frustration from a lack of growth in your youth ministry can lead to the big-event mentality. Panic sets in, so you think the big event will be your salvation to a larger, more effective youth program. The Power Team, a popular Christian music group, or a charismatic youth evangelist is brought in to fix the youth ministry. The event is widely promoted through fundraising, selling tickets, placing posters around town, providing announcements for the radio, making phone calls, inviting friends, and notifying schools.

Suddenly, you realize that if all goes well hundreds of teenagers will be on the church property in just a matter of days, and there is no way you can handle the anticipated crowd. The solution: adult workers. To locate the adult workers you need, you talk to parents of teens, ask friends in the church, and make announcements in the church bulletin. Little discrimination, if any, is used.

As the youth pastor, you get commitments from several adults who agree to help. They are introduced the following Wednesday night as new youth leaders. The day of the big event arrives, and you release the new adult workers into the sea of teenagers. Unfortunately, most of the workers are not equipped for youth ministry. The following Wednesday night, the new adult leaders show up for the midweek service but have no idea what they are expected to do. A couple of weeks later they get discouraged and wonder what happened to the excitement they experienced at the big event. They become disillusioned with the youth ministry and quit.

If adult workers are ineffective and untrained it is the fault of the youth pastor. Adult workers must be trained, equipped, and taught what to do as youth leaders.

Training Adult Workers For Servanthood
Training adult workers is vital to the success of your leadership team. Great leaders are not born; they are made. Nowhere is this more evident than with adult youth workers. Because of the age difference and the lack of respect that characterizes today’s teen culture, adult youth workers have their work cut out for them. Adult workers will effectively minister to teenagers when they learn how to serve them. Serving is the key that opens doors in teenagers’ lives. This belief has led me to develop a training program that is based on servanthood.

1. The mindset of an adult leader.

This teaching is based on the life of Caleb (Joshua 14:6—12). Caleb’s age had nothing to do with his spirit. He was aggressive and ready to do what needed to be done. This is the mind-set I expect in the adult leaders on my staff. There are four key truths I draw from the life of Caleb.

a. Caleb’s age was an asset to him. He refused to slow down simply because he was older than those around him.

b. Caleb demonstrated an unshakable faith in God that had been tried and tested by situations and circumstances.

c. Caleb possessed a positive outlook on life. After 40 years in the wilderness, his outlook on life remained optimistic. I love to be around people who have experience because they have experienced life and are excited about tomorrow.

 

d. Caleb knew what needed to be done and did it. He was not intimidated by the task, nor did he consider defeat an option. This is the mind-set that teens need in their leaders.

2. Giving like a servant (Philippians 2:3,4).

3. Forgiving like a servant (Matthew 5:23,24).

4. Thinking like a servant (2 Corinthians 10:1—7).

5. Servanthood–the big three.
a. Consistency
b. Leadership
c. Sacrifice

6. Seeing like a servant–The art of spotting need.

7. Acting like a servant (1 Peter 2:21).

8. Having the power of a servant (Matthew 5).

9. Building like a servant (Nehemiah 4).

10. Harvesting like a servant (2 Timothy 2).

–Bret L. Allen, Concord, California.

 

ADULT LEADERS ARE SERVANT LEADERS

The adult leadership team is an incredibly valuable piece to the overall puzzle of youth ministry. They can do things that make my ministry extremely effective and can teach things that can’t be taught in a sermon. I value the adult leaders in my ministry because they are servant leaders. Their specific purpose is to serve the youth. Their job description starts and ends on this single point.

I train my adult leaders to be servant-leaders, and each of my 53 youth workers engages in service-motivated ministry responsibilities at our Thursday night service. After service, it’s not unusual to see adults picking up paper or other trash, praying with a teen at the altar, giving rides home, helping in the cafe, or providing change for a phone call.

Each adult worker operates as a row pastor during the youth service. I assign two adults as row pastors for each row of chairs. Instead of me being responsible for 400–500 youth on a Thursday night, each set of row pastors takes care of 12 youth. They greet, welcome, and minister to the youth in their row that night. When they do this, I have ensured two important things: (1) The needs of all the youth have an opportunity to be met, and (2) every adult worker has an opportunity for real ministry. Every week, just before worship, we allow the row pastors 8 minutes to demonstrate practical servanthood to their youth. It literally makes a difference in young people’s lives, because for many it tears down walls of resistance so Christ can change their hearts.

Servanthood transforms adults into youth workers. Average adults will insist on unearned respect and admiration simply because they are older and more experienced. Perhaps you’ve heard adults say to students, "You have to listen to me—I’m older and wiser than you. In fact, I’m old enough to be your parent." There isn’t a 13-year-old today who will respond well to that kind of attitude.

Remember, leadership is influence. It has nothing to do with one’s age, experience, gray hair, or ability to nag. The only way to influence is to serve with a pure heart. Servanthood will afford you opportunities into the lives of teens. This is why my adult leadership team is on the bottom of my leadership flow chart under the junior high, senior high, and Master’s Commission leaders—because they are present to serve young people.

Servant leaders have the attitude of Christ found in Philippians 2:5–8: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!" (NIV).

DEVELOPING QUALITY YOUTH WORKERS

To get great youth workers you have to make them. Great youth workers don’t grow on trees or come parcel post from heaven. They are produced. Here is how I select adult youth leadership:

The Assignment

When adults inquire about youth work, I schedule a meeting to discuss our youth ministry. I explain the purpose, vision, and mission statement of our program. I ask them to attend a midweek service, a junior or senior high Sunday school class, and a Saturday outreach in the community. I want potential leaders to experience as many aspects of our ministry as possible. I’m excited if they are coming to help—but if they are coming to change things or straighten me out, I let them know that God has called me to serve as youth pastor and has given me the vision for this ministry. I don’t want adult workers who have it in their heart to change the direction of the ministry. After the adults have visited the youth meeting, I arrange a follow-up meeting. I have never had a major problem with our adult leadership when I use this procedure.

The Probation

After the three-part assignment, 50 percent of the adults never contact me again. Not everyone is called to work with youth. With a 50-percent elimination rate, I’ve prevented many potential problems. Standards and honesty have a way of doing that.

Those who do come to the follow-up meeting are placed on a 6-month probation. Each adult is assigned to work with another youth worker, but holds no authority until the 6 months are over. Six months may seem like a long time, but it takes that much time for an adult worker to understand my philosophy of ministry and for us to get to know each other. This time requirement contributes to the longevity of adult youth workers.

Another reason I insist on 6 months is because some people can present a facade for a month, some for 2 or even 3 months. But I have never met anyone who can maintain a facade for 6 months. At the end of 6 months, I’ll know if they possess the all-important trait of consistency. I will know if I want them to influence the youth or not. Six months isn’t that long when you consider the importance of the task surrounding the adult worker—to serve youth who need to accurately see the love of Christ.

Application and Fingerprinting

Before I allow adults to join my staff, they must fill out a four-page youth workers application. I also ask them to be fingerprinted at the police department. Each applicant gives me the fingerprint card and completed application. I give the information to our business manager for a complete background check. This ensures that my youth workers do not have criminal records or a history of child molestation.

Training

After being accepted as youth workers and following 6 months of probation, adult leaders are introduced to the youth ministry in a festive atmosphere during a Thursday night service. Everybody knows the commitment required to reach this level. After they become adult leaders, they are required to attend monthly leadership training sessions where they learn to be better servant leaders. (See the sidebar, Training Adult Workers for Servanthood.)

Adult youth workers are a blessing from God. They will enrich your life and ministry, but only if they are recruited and trained correctly. Troubled teens will know that Jesus loves them when adults serve them week after week in practical and loving ways.


Bret L. Allen is youth pastor at Calvary Temple in Concord, California.

YOUTH MINISTRY: FORMING TEAM
LEADERSHIP WITH LAYPEOPLE

To create an effective youth ministry team, the youth pastor must have direction, goals, and an understanding of youth ministry. The leader must be one step closer to the cross than those he/she leads and committed to those he/she serves. Here are four areas that will lead to a successful youth program.

CASTING VISION

The pastor and youth pastor are responsible for casting vision for youth ministry. By casting vision, ministry can effectively take place through a lay leadership team. When dreams for youth ministry come from the pulpit, the hearts of the people are opened and this encourages commitment of time, finances, and resources for youth ministry.

QUALIFICATIONS

Youth worker application forms should be required for each worker and kept on file. The youth pastor interviews those desiring to help in youth ministry. The interview helps assess each person’s abilities and gifts, and allows the youth pastor to discuss commitments, challenges, and responsibilities. A job description is helpful.

Help youth workers understand that their personal life, conduct, and choices will be paramount in their effectiveness in making a lasting effect on teens (see 1 Corinthians 6:12).

EXPECTATIONS

The following three levels of commitment are required for youth workers to serve.

Level 1. Workers can help with social activities. Encourage participation in other youth-related events and services. Ask workers to pray for the youth group and its leadership.

Level 2. Time commitment at this level is approximately 2 to 4 hours a week. Areas of serving include assisting in youth activities and interacting socially and spiritually with youth. Attending weekly youth services is mandatory. Other responsibilities could be added. Their attendance on trips and events is encouraged and welcomed. Ask them to pray for new youth members and visitors.

Level 3. This level requires 4 to 8 hours of commitment each week. The principal focus of lay involvement at this level is to help move youth into ministry positions. Workers can be involved in counseling, prayer meetings, planning and carrying out ministries, discipleship groups, and planning trips and events.

Youth workers should begin at level 1. As they develop, move them to the next level. Allow God to help you discern where workers might best be used. They will be most productive if you place them where they are gifted.

MENTORING AND TRAINING

Leaders need to be mentored and trained. Remember they are volunteers with their own needs. During your mentoring, you may find personal problems, spiritual needs, or gifts that differ from the tasks they are doing.

Those who are at levels 2 and 3 need to attend staff meetings. During these meetings, present training techniques to enhance the youth staff. Allow for ownership and involvement of the youth program by the youth workers.

Each quarter meet with workers and plan the quarter’s events. Identify the victories over the last quarter. Cast vision for youth ministry and pray for your leaders and the needs of the teens in your youth group.

Conduct annual staff-appreciation retreats. Allow God to meet staff needs by preaching the Word, praying for each other and the youth group. Evaluate ministry results. Ask, "What core values are being established by our youth group activities and experiences? Which ones are being missed?" Conduct leadership training and recast dreams and visions. Evaluate the methods you are using to accomplish the four aspects of youth ministry: worship, fellowship, discipleship, and evangelism.

A guest speaker can also challenge your team, provide support for your vision, and develop team unity.

SERVANT LEADERSHIP

Mentoring by example is your greatest asset. Being a servant leader will enhance your ministry. Your willingness and ability to serve will make the youth workers’ tasks easier and are valuable to them and the ministry. Layworkers will catch the vision and believe they can make a difference by serving and giving.

–Keith Elder is director of Youth and Christian Education
for the Montana District. He lives in Billings, Montana.

 

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