3 Ways to Stop Being an Ineffective Youth Leader

Making disciples is harder than you could ever imagine, but simpler than you would ever think. For those involved in student ministry, discipling young people is not really complicated—it’s just costly. You don’t need a doctorate in theology, but you do need to have died to yourself.

Profile of Effective Youth Leader.003

What exactly makes someone an effective youth leader?

Here’s an example. Melisa is a youth leader who has been leading a group of junior girls at Mars Hill Bellevue. Each week she opens up her Bible with these ladies, listens to their struggles and questions, and points them to Jesus. She also opens up her life by pursuing their hearts relationally outside of a program or event. And when she was away on a family vacation for a couple of weeks, two of her girls stepped up and led their peers the same way Melisa has been leading them.

Melisa is just one of many examples of a godly and effective youth leader. By the grace of God she is making disciples who make disciples, by sharing the gospel, sharing her life, and empowering young people to do likewise.

Making disciples is harder than you could ever imagine, but simpler than you would ever think.

Paul reveals some powerful practices in the way he discipled those in the church at Thessalonica. His pen drips with insight and sincerity as he writes, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).

What follows is the job description of every youth leader at Mars Hill: three simple yet costly characteristics of Paul’s leadership in 1 Thessalonians 2, which we use as a leadership model for anyone serving in student ministry.

1. BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT SHARING THE GOSPEL

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that the most important gift he shared with them was the gospel: the message about Christ’s finished work on the cross for sinners. An effective youth leader has the gospel on repeat like 90s church kids with a new DC Talk track. When it comes to repeating the best news in the universe, if you feel like a broken record, you’re doing it right.

Our tendency as youth leaders is to gravitate toward good advice. But the gospel is not advice for us to suggest self-improvement strategies, but news that is to be received, remembered, and repeated.

The sin-shattering, obedience-empowering, finished work of Jesus on the cross should infuse all our sermons, be central to all our counseling, fuel all our work, and define all our relationships. Paul said that dropping this news is the power of God for salvation to those who believe (Rom. 1:16). It is the message through which the Holy Spirit makes hearts that are dead in sin or deceived by religious self-righteousness come alive.

When it comes to repeating the best news in the universe, if you feel like a broken record, you’re doing it right.

The human experience is one marked by a proclivity toward forgetfulness. This is particularly true of younger people. It seems like the only thing in the universe that eclipses the speed of light is our ability to forget the grace of God in moments of tension or trial. It’s no surprise then that Jesus refers to us as sheep, known for their innate stupidity and tendency to wander. As the timeless hymn declares,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

This is why Paul was so eager to remind the early church of the gospel again and again (1 Cor. 15:1–2). This is why we’re reminded to fix our eyes on Jesus, who authors and perfects our faith (Heb. 12:2). This is why, as Samuel Johnson famously said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

The sin-shattering, obedience-empowering, finished work of Jesus on the cross should fuel all our work and define all our relationships.

And this is great news for every person serving the younger generation. You don’t have to be extroverted, eloquent, or be able to fit into skinny jeans. You don’t have to emotionally manipulate a faux repentance that is more about your validation than their vindication. The gospel is liberating for both you and your students, because the power unto salvation lies not in the messenger or the method, but in the message.

An effective youth leader orbits the gospel, teaches the gospel, and shows students how every part of life is connected to the gospel.

2. BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT SHARING YOUR LIFE

Because of his deep love for the Thessalonians, Paul was not content to merely give them good news. He wanted to give them himself, so that they might also see the aftermath of the gospel explosion in his life. Like Paul, effective youth leaders not only open up their mouths to share the gospel with young people, they also open up their busy schedules to share their lives with them.

To cherish the gospel but close off your life to others reveals a toxic misunderstanding of the sacrificial nature of grace. The late Howard Hendricks wrote, “You can impress people at a distance but you can only impact them up close.” The younger generation in the church today deeply need and often greatly desire (though they may not express it) for their parents and leaders to show them practically what it looks like to follow Jesus.

An effective youth leader orbits the gospel, teaches the gospel, and shows students how every part of life is connected to the gospel.

Much in the Christian journey is not taught by a transfer of information, but caught through the mutual encouragement of shared lives. I have read some fantastic books and heard some powerful sermons on important topics like prayer, parenting, and sharing my faith. But it was when I also experienced those precious opportunities to observe someone more mature in their faith than me pray with boldness, patiently love their children, and winsomely talk about Jesus that I experienced the growth that comes with discipleship.

Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Seminary nails it when she writes, “To treat adolescents as a separate species instead of as less experienced members of our own is one of the twentieth century’s largest category errors.”

An effective youth leader passes on their experience to adolescents in two important ways. First, by incarnating into the rhythms of their student’s lives in order to love, encourage, and serve them and their parents (who by the way, are the primary disciplers in their child’s life). Second, by inviting students into the weekly rhythms of their own life and family, a practice particularly important for the myriad of young people in our churches who love Jesus, but whose parents do not.

3. BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT EMPOWERING STUDENTS TO DO THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY

As Paul shared the gospel and shared his life, he apparently did so in such a way that encouraged the Thessalonians to do likewise. The result was not a passive consumerism that marks so many of our youth ministries today, but intentional empowerment that led to authentic imitation. Paul writes,

We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. (1 Thess. 2:13–14)

Neither Paul, nor the Apostles, nor Jesus himself saw those to whom they shared their words and lives as mere recipients of ministry. They were to be participators.

True leadership is less about rising up and more about raising up.

The most effective youth leaders go beyond just providing ministry for students, and instead see their role primarily as equipping students for ministry (Eph. 4:12). Their posture is one of loving empowerment. They understand that true leadership is less about rising up and more about raising up.

Youth Leader: Share the gospel. Share your life. Empower young people to do the same. It’s that simple. And it’s that costly.

 

This article was originally written for The Resurgence, and can be found by clicking HERE.

 www.adamramsey.org

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