A Leader Worth Following
By Matteo Schulte
Building relationships with students is the key to being able to speak into their lives. I tell our staff all the time: “Be a leader worth following.”
Leaders worth following build relationships based on one goal—seeing a student grow closer to the Lord. Relationships can start out fun and crazy but they need to have a goal, a time when the youth worker asks the student to make changes in his or her life based on God’s word. The students will be willing to if youth workers have taken the time to invest in them.
At LeaderTreks we make challenge the main focus of our program. I notice that when we challenge students engaged in relationship with our staff they tend to be gung-ho and successful but when we challenge students outside our circle of relationship students see the challenge as an obstacle that can’t be overcome. Relationship is a powerful tool in the hands of a youth leader.
I know for many youth workers relationship building comes easy, it’s why we got into the ministry. We have a passion for students. Training our youth workers is tough. Many of them have a heart for service but are afraid of students.
Here are some of the techniques I teach my own staff.
Students have to get your time if you’re going to get their hearts. Find out what they like to do and do it with them. It’s best if you can find an activity that you both enjoy. Sit where students sit. Be around them, hang out in their world and they will want to know why you are there.
Discover a Student
Students are just waiting to be discovered. They want someone to unmask them and bring them out. If you discover them then you get their heart. At LeaderTreks our staff play a game called 100 questions. When they spend time with students working, doing dishes or just hanging out, they ask students questions designed to discover who they are and build a relationship with them. The game is simple. You start by asking a question about the clothes they are wearing and continue to ask questions based on their answers. The idea is to catch them off guard, they are always willing to talk about clothes or school but before they know it they are answering questions about their parents and their relationship with Jesus Christ.
One-hundred questions just plain works for me, it’s not a flashy idea but it will do the job of discovering a student.
Writing notes is the most powerful way of making a shallow relationship deeper. When I was a youth pastor I would try and write six notes a day. Sounds like a lot but I could do it in fifteen minutes. The way I did it was I kept the body of the note the same and just changed a few words to fit the student. Every letter started with “I was praying for you today” and then I would tell the student I prayed. If I had seen them in a game or a play I would mention that but each letter was short. The power of the note is in how it’s delivered. Many times I would put notes in their cars or on their windshields. If I could I would find a way to get the notes in their lockers. The best way to deliver a letter is in a place where it is least expected. I have a youth pastor buddy who would take sick bags from planes and write notes on them and put them in the mail. He would often write “I was sick about your missing youth group.”
The postman would always deliver them.
Have a Purpose for the Relationship
Once you have developed a relationship with a student never lose sight of the mission. Always use your conversations to challenge students to grow. Move the discussion to points of decisions. Ask students to make changes in their lives. Ask them if you can hold them accountable. Never lose your focus on growing the student.
The biggest mistake youth workers make is to think they know a student because they know the student’s other siblings or the student’s family. Don’t fall into this trap. Make sure you have spent the time to know each student with whom you have influence. You will demonstrate to them that the program is not about you but about them. Once you have their hearts you will be able to challenge them with whatever God puts in your heart.
This article “A Leader Worth Following” by Matteo Schulte is excerpted from Group Magazine, Feb. 2006.