Adult Leadersthe Missing Link
They were face to face in the corner of the youth room by the time I noticed themfingers 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 meIm 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, Ive 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 orderthings they desperately need. It is unfair to ask adults to come to youth service and be responsible for policing the youth. This is not ministryits 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.
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 cant 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, its 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 400500 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 peoples 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 youve heard adults say to students, "You have to listen to meIm older and wiser than you. In fact, Im old enough to be your parent." There isnt a 13-year-old today who will respond well to that kind of attitude.
Remember, leadership is influence. It has nothing to do with ones 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 Masters Commission leadersbecause they are present to serve young people.
Servant leaders have the attitude of Christ found in Philippians 2:58: "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 deatheven death on a cross!" (NIV).
DEVELOPING QUALITY YOUTH WORKERS
To get great youth workers you have to make them. Great youth workers dont grow on trees or come parcel post from heaven. They are produced. Here is how I select adult youth leadership:
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. Im excited if they are coming to helpbut 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 dont 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.
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, Ive 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, Ill 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 isnt that long when you consider the importance of the task surrounding the adult workerto 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.
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.