How old is old enough?
The question is then how old a youth leader needs to be to be completely responsible, even spiritually. That’s not so easy to answer. When my husband and I were ‘just’ 25, we became responsible for a teen group with 40+ teens, and our age was never an issue. But I’ve also known 25-year-olds I wouldn’t trust to mow my lawn, so to speak.
In short: I don’t think there’s one correct answer here. As I wrote this youth pastor, a lot depends on the cultural circumstances (example: in the rural area where we now live, students tend to be more mature than in the urban area we lived before) and the maturity of the people involved. I would look at factors like:
- Spiritual maturity
- Life experience (it makes a big difference if someone has been through a lot already or has been raised in a fairly protected environment)
- Maturity in general (for instance, responsibility, being able to deal with finances, etc.)
- Availability of other leaders or mentors to coach and supervise
- Type of role and the level of (spiritual) responsibility involved (organizing an event is different than leading a small group)
I think you have to weigh each situation carefully and then make a decision. Personally, I’m not a fan of letting students lead people their own age when it comes to spiritual matters (I’m not talking about leading a Bible study or leading worship — I mean structural spiritual leadership like leading a small group). My main reason is that they lack the ‘distance’ and life experience to lead their own classmates.
Mentoring and supervision
But on the other hand, I think we tend to underestimate what students are capable of. I’ve had a few exceptional student leaders in my ministry who could carry a lot of responsibility. The key, however, was to mentor them well and provide sufficient training and supervision.
So my response to this youth pastor would be: By all means, let your 16-18-year-olds lead in the youth ministry. Let them organize events or youth services, let them try leading worship or giving the message. Let them experiment, use their spiritual gifts. But protect them spiritually and don’t make them responsible for more than is healthy for them and for the ministry. And don’t forget to equip them and mentor them, help them grow into respected leaders.
That’s just my two cents, I’d love to hear some more responses from others. What would you advise, what age difference does your youth ministry require between youth leaders and students?