One of the most compelling books I read in my undergraduate degree was 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In this book, I learned that success hangs on the leader’s habits. My favorite philosopher, Aristotle, states:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
I believe that the best youth pastors understand the power of habit they display in their youth ministry. Here are the habits I have observed in the most exceptional and excellent youth pastors around the country:
They listen: Great youth pastors have the gift of listening to what others (parents, students, co-workers, senior leadership and leaders) are saying. They listen to the people they know they need to listen to. They have the ability to shut their mouth and use their ears. Listening does two things: (1) It demonstrates humility and that you are open to other options. (2) It teaches you how to ask great and powerful questions.
They learn: We all know this, but great leaders are learners. The exceptional youth pastors I have been around are always reading and listening to others while talking to other influential leaders. Great youth pastors place a high value on growing and developing themselves. They learn from others who are not like them and they study other very successful people.
They’re insanely courageous: Courageous youth pastors understand two things: (1) Courage means to always put others first. (2) Courage means you take responsibility for failure. The great youth pastors are comfortable and great at failing. Many youth pastors I talked to are so hesitant to experiment because they have to protect their “numbers” or are afraid they will mess up momentum. The great thing about youth ministry is that the church is looking to youth pastors to lead the way. Historically, youth ministry has been the research and development department of the church. We do new stuff. That is exciting, but it is also a responsibility.
Kenda Dean, professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, commented:
Youth Ministry is a crystal ball: Wanna see the church in 20 yrs? Look at the youth ministry in your church.
They have a hopeful and positive view of the local church and youth ministry: Most have a very cynical view of the local church and youth ministry. Most believe that if you want to influence youth culture, youth ministry and the church is NOT the way to go. But the great youth pastors believe the opposite. They are realistic, positive and hopeful while having a practical plan to slowly change how today’s youth can influence and impact the world. The great youth pastors believe today’s youth can actually partner with God, and that God is using the local church to do so. The exceptional youth pastor acknowledges the negative research and data on why youth ministry is not working but finds small, practical ways to do their part to reverse the stats.
They are always looking for new talent: Great youth pastors know their own talent has an expiration date. So they are always on the look out for new and rising talent. Finding new talent allows a leader to better delegate key youth ministry responsibilities without having to feel the enormous weight of doing it all. The goal is to have a team of talented individuals you like, know, trust and empower. Don’t be scared of younger and better youth pastors.
They never emotionally overreact: Exceptional youth pastors know how to control their emotions. Youth pastors are pretty emotional. So youth pastors that learn how to manage their emotions normally win. Why? Because they are able to keep their emotions in check when working with people. Working with church people is a tough job because they typically make youth pastors mad.
One of Colin Powell’s life rules is:
It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
Colin suggests that great leaders need to have a calm, collected attitude of, “Things will get better. You will make them better—just give it some time and thought.”
They know how to make great decisions. Excellent youth pastors have a decision-making model. They are decisive because they get all the information and facts at hand, make a pros/cons list, plan, pray and prepare, and trust their gut. I personally like Ben Franklin’s model for making decisions. Here’s Ben’s decision making model:
What habits have you seen exceptional youth pastors continually do?