A Trio of Youth Leader Insights
Darren Sutton, Danny Bowers, and Kurt Johnston
#1 – Parents are the True Pastors
“Parents are the pastors—we’re support staff.”
“We’re support staff; the real leading, the real shepherding, happens at home.”
These are true conversations from the Intern Island. I am starting a series of articles inspired by conversations I’ve had with interns over the past 20 years. Call me sadistic, but there’s nothing more fun to me than challenging the traditional mind-set of a young, fresh, supposedly out-of-the-box-thinking youth worker. Over the years, I’ve kept these things close and pondered them in my heart.
Almost every intern I have ever worked with has launched into ministry training thinking that youth ministry is up to the youth worker. When I’ve challenged that philosophy (like the conversation above), I’m met with stares of incredulity (“I’ve never thought of that before”) or stares of non-comprehension (“He’s started speaking Klingon and I don’t watch Star Trek”).
Parents ARE pastors—I’m lucky that I get to come alongside them and watch their kids work out their salvation with fear and trembling—but PARENTS are where true, regular, lasting ministry takes place.
Parents are the greatest influence teenagers have. We’re privileged and blessed to support parents as they reach their kids for Christ. (Yes, dear intern, I am aware that not all parents are Christian—and that some who are don’t do a very good job.) That doesn’t give me license to take over their position in the game. It just shows me where some of my efforts are needed in supporting that weakness on the team. Taking the spot of a parent on the team just makes me a ball hog…and that never works out well in the end.
So listen, my young Padawan. Find some ways to support parents as they shepherd their kids.
Brag on their kids to them—in writing. By sending moms and dads notes about how amazing their student is—giving specific examples—you provide parents with fuel. It gives them confidence that they’re doing some things right. It forces them to look at positives in their teenagers. It gives them something to talk about with their kids.
Find ways to include Mom and Dad in ministry. Sometimes you’ll need to set boundaries for them (like, “let another youth worker discipline your kid when you’re at church” or “don’t call your son pookie when in Bible study”). But including them in leadership shows you as a team player and helps their kids see them as relevant (sometimes). And whaddya know, it gives you regular opportunities to equip that parent as the pastor he or she really is…without it being weird when you call them up and say, “Hey, have you thought about not calling your kid an idiot?”
RESOURCE! As much as you’re learning interning and going to school, you still don’t know everything. Find some great resources you can offer Mom and Dad. From free stuff like podcasts and newsletters, to spending a couple of bucks on books or magazines (yes, Virginia, there is a hard copy), to offering opportunities like parenting conferences and seminars, tools like these can be invaluable in equipping parents for the work of ministry in the lives of their teenagers. And wow, do you end up looking WAY smarter than you are just by offering opportunities to learn!
Listen—and hear them. We do the greatest injustice to parents when we listen, but we don’t hear them. We hear the words they’re saying, but those words are going through our filter of inadequacy, doubt, defensiveness, or exhaustion. Somewhere it all gets lost in translation, and we respond not to what they said, but to what we heard. Reflect their statements (“So what I think I hear you saying is you hate my guts”) to gain a truer message. And if you need time to process, ask for it. “Listen, I know this is really important and I don’t want to answer without some time to think and pray; can we come back together tomorrow?”
God has given you favor, intern, in allowing you to be part of someone’s family. Don’t write off so easily that weighty responsibility. Moms and dads will always and forever have a more lasting, lifelong impact on their kids than you do. Long after you have become a senior pastor, they will still be the parent. Investing in them is the wisest ministry move you can make.
Join us for the next episode of Intern Island, where we’ll find “Love the Senior Pastor as You Love Yourself.”
#2 – Jesus, Leadership, Losers
Teenagers hate to miss out on life. They hate to feel like they’ve “missed something”—be it an event, party, funny moment, or inside joke. It’s one of the most constant facts I have seen for the last 10 years in youth ministry.
I believe this feeling is one of many reasons that students have a hard time understanding passages when Jesus says “whoever loses his life for me will actually save it” (Luke 9:24).
Or Paul’s “I have been crucified with Christ and I NO LONGER LIVE but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Teenagers live in a world of tension where the majority see friends and peers “living however they want to” while they are told to miss out on all that—miss out on being a part of certain conversations; opt out of certain social functions.
In the last few months I have had numerous conversations with students struggling, wrestling, and debating over why they can’t be part world and part Christian. Why do they have to feel like they stick out so much? Why can’t I “have fun with my friends now and come back to Jesus later?”
It’s in these conversations that I’ve been continually drawn to challenge students with the following:
What kind of message is your life telling others if you are always following people & never leading? I want to encourage students to see the depth of life-change that Jesus calls us to. Salvation in Jesus is not just a sin “fix” but also an ongoing chance to be a part of what God is doing in the world. Jesus brings us to new life—a life that we can’t access if we are always living in the past.
For the students that have accepted the challenge to let go of what they want and pursue the life God wants to give them have found a new sense of freedom—freedom to live a NEW NORMAL (1 of 3 core values of our high school ministry). For other students, the wrestling, wondering, and debating continues.
The life Jesus calls us to has always been about surrendering to Him. My hope as a youth pastor is to continually challenge students & lead them to experience what a life fully surrendered to Jesus can be. I don’t want to just tell them … I want to show them and share in it with them as well.
#3 – When Small Groups Work Best for Youth
When it comes to small groups, there are lots of variables: Should they meet on campus or in homes? Should they be co-ed or same sex? Should they all study the same curriculum or be allowed to pick their own? Should they meet all year round or take the summer off? While these are all good questions, and worth thinking about, the truth is that none of these are the factors that most contribute to a successful small group ministry. Over the next couple of newsletters, I want to take a look at several key small group components that I believe make small groups work best.
* Small Groups Work Best When Healthy Leaders Are In Place. Over the years I’ve learned that small groups rise and fall on the leaders. Spiritually mature, healthy leaders who understand young teen development and have the patience to be part of the journey are crucial to small group ministry.
* Small Groups Work Best When Leaders Stick Around. In our ministry we’ve discovered that students who have the same small group leaders from year to year almost always report having had a better small group experience. Look for ways to slow down the ‘revolving door’ of adults who are leading your small groups.
* Small Groups Work Best When Leaders Are Trained and Encouraged. Healthy leaders who stick around usually aren’t born; they’re made! Don’t assume a parent of an 8th grader knows how to lead a small group made up of eight 8th graders. A twenty-one year old college student who seems about twice as cool as you isn’t automatically a confident, competent leader. Take the time to meet regularly with your small group leaders for training and encouragement.
* Small Groups Work Best with More Than One Leader. I understand how tough it is to get enough small group leaders, let alone two per group! However, the benefits of two leaders per small group are too important to be ignored. Accountability, the ability for one to take a week off if needed, partnering a veteran with a rookie, two sets of life experiences and the ability to build deeper relationships with students are just a few of the reasons having two leaders per group makes sense.
* Small Groups Work Best When Leaders Get To Know the Parents. Greeting parents when they drop their student off, asking to speak to mom or dad when calling a student and writing a quick note of encouragement to parents are super easy ways leaders can begin to build relationships with parents. When parents know and trust their child’s small group leader, they will be way more supportive.
This article “A Trio of Youth Leader Insights” written by Darren Sutton, Danny Bowers, and Kurt Johnston, was excerpted from: www.simplyyouth.com web site. June 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”