What youth leader wouldn’t want to know the seven habits of highly effective youth leaders?
All across the church community there are adults who meet up regularly, some times for discussion over a sermon, bible study, prayer, or just to do life together. I have grown up to call them life groups. This environment allows adults to refresh their spirits, sharpen one another, create meaningful relationships, and give them something to look forward to each week. My passion as a youth leader has always been to create this same environment for young men. It has proven to be a challenge because, quite honestly, young men can harbor some pretty shallow spirits. They can so easily fall victim to the persuasion of the crowds. So how do youth leaders create a successful Student Life Group or ministry. By successful, I mean a group that shows consistency in its attendance, limited turnover, and growth in it’s size but most importantly displays noticeable growth in student’s character.
I had a student say during one of our meetings, “this place is the only place I experience real character development” which is what motivated me to put to screen the ideas I feel have rewarded me success with students. If you have a youth ministry or have a student life group outside of the youth ministry these are the things that I know will create positive forward movement towards the goal of developing students that are directly influence by your ministry.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Youth Leaders
Teach ‘Up’- Use teachings and ideas that will challenge them by speaking at a level above the platform they currently stand on. Challenging a student sends so many intangible messages to them, without actually saying it to them. Primarily, it tells them that you believe in their ability to rise up to what you are teaching. You do not speak to who they are, you speak to who you believe they can be. What good is it to teach a standard that exists at the level they have already achieved? Call them to a higher standard and place a mark in front of them worth achieving. When you are the leader in their life who is consistently ahead of their developmental curve they will continue to look to you for the next call in their life.
Meet them where they are- Not to contradict with teaching up, I believe acceptance drives influence. Once you have come down to them at the maturity level that they currently live at, only then will you have their permission to speak to their hearts. Once you have the permission to speak to their heart then you have the opportunity to challenge them, as we just discussed. Do not confuse acceptance with tolerance. It is ok to accept someone without tolerating what they do. Communicating that you are not going to tolerate their behavior is not an indication that you don’t accept them, but when shown in love will actually communicate that you care about them and believe that they can be greater than their behavior.
Authentic beats cool every time- I have seen enough people trying everything they can to appear cool to a 13 year old boy in an attempt to gain influence. Their motives are pure but their intentions get lost in their imitations. Can I give you a news flash? They can smell a fake, and so could you when you were young. Sadly, if you are labeled as a fake, you have failed. In my ministries I have been told that I am cool, to a level that Im desensitized to it. Although I am thankful for their compliments, what I believe they are meaning to tell me is that they think I’m authentic. Anyone who has ever tried to be cool, is not cool, and anyone who has been authentic, is subsequently labeled as cool.
Go after them, don’t wait for them to come after you- This should come out of the overflow of confidence you have around students. I have met so many grown people who have actually expressed to me their fear of teenagers. Its something that is foreign to me. You should always place tremendous importance on pursuing students on a 1 on 1 level. It expresses that they are very valuable to you and that they have permission to interrupt your day at any time. Don’t be concerned with trying to talk to hoards of students all at once. Think about it, If you talked to 1 student a day, every single day, you will have talked to 365 students in a year. There are people that will not take the time to talk to the one student because they are too caught up trying to economize their time and talk to the crowds. Keeping things personable will send a positive message of intimacy, acceptance, and value.
Serve irrationally- Go hard. Instead of asking the question “how little can I get away with spending?” The right question to ask is “how much do I have to spend?” With your time, give as much of it to your student that you can possibly budget. With your money, press up against the boundaries in your budget. You serve them irrationally by giving to them irrationally. It is always my goal to create a culture of serving that one day they will get to my age and wonder how I managed to do it. This level of irrational giving will reverberate into their adult lives and speak a message of servanthood that cannot be forgotten.
Speak to who they really are, not who they pretend to be- I heard this from a pastor who was coming to the reality that responsibly pastoring a church was about gently breaking down the walls and speaking to the dysfunctions of life that are easy to hide. Students have a natural self-preservation defense mechanism that will cause them to live a double lifestyle. They’ll have their church life, and their personal life. It is toxic to grow up believing that your faith and your life are separate matters. If you never create an atmosphere where it is safe to speak to what is not working, you will eventually lose your credibility as their leader. To them, you will become obsolete. After all, they don’t need your help with what’s working, they need your help with what’s not working.
Be someone worth pursuing- Consistency breeds credibility. The look on a students face in my early years as a youth leader have been permanently etched into my memory when he asked me the simplest question. “Are you the same around us, as you are around your friends?” His question still echoes in my spirit, and challenge me every day I wake. Am I someone worth being pursued? Have I done anything that will inspire people to be a difference maker to the people they have influence over. Have I been a positive influence? Am I raising the standards for myself? Your life will always make more noise than your lips. The people who you lead will hear what you do much louder than they will hear what you say. Make sure the noise you make, is a noise worth being reproduced.