Developing Adult Leaders

Developing Adult Leaders
Doug Fields

FIELDS: Katie, how has the role of adult leaders in youth ministry changed over the last decade?

EDWARDS: When I first started out in youth ministry, 10 or 12 years ago, there was a lot more of the attitude that the “youth pastor is the youth pastor” —he’s the one caring for the flock. Over the last decade, I’ve really seen a passing of the torch to volunteers—ministries are utilizing volunteers more and volunteers are taking on more pastoral roles. Ministries are decentralizing a lot more from the youth pastor.


FIELDS: Which is a great trend. But it would be interesting to know whether this really represents a change in youth ministry, or if it’s just you…

EDWARDS: Going from young to old? (laughs)


FIELDS: Yeah, gaining more experience in youth ministry. That’s how it was for me. I went from thinking I had to do it all to realizing I can’t do any-thing—that I need to develop other people.

EDWARDS: Yeah, and resource-wise, in the beginning there weren’t a ton of resources on training and equipping volunteers. Over the years there’s more help for us in learning how to grow as leaders of leaders—that’s been really helpful.


FIELDS: What’s one of the biggest hurdles we face in developing leaders for youth ministry?

EDWARDS: Developing leaders takes time, and we’re in a culture where people are busy and they don’t have a lot of it. We have this vision of how we could develop them if they could give us more time to do it. So a big hurdle for us to get over is just figuring out how to develop leaders in the context of their time. How do I develop a stay-at-home mom whose commitment to her family far outweighs her commitment to her small group?


FIELDS: What’s one big misconception you think youth leaders might have when they’re developing adult leaders?

EDWARDS: I think a lot of us get into youth ministry because we love students—they’re so fun to be with. And in the beginning of my ministry I thought leaders weren’t as fun as students. Now I know that ministering to leaders—learning about their lives and seeing them have ah-ha moments—can be just as fulfilling and just as fun as working with teenagers.


FIELDS: I’ve talked about the bait-and-switch thing before—you go into youth ministry because you want to be with teenagers and once you get in there you can only care for a few of them. To do it well we need to care for adult leaders.

EDWARDS: Whether you have 10 kids or 100 kids, once you can surrender to multiplying yourself and allowing God to grow that desire and excitement in your heart, it becomes a really fun part of youth ministry.


FIELDS: I just wrote down what you said about surrender because that is the number-one thing I hear from people: “How did you ever make that switch—wasn’t it difficult?” Yesterday I told a youth pastor who asked me that question: “You die a little death.” You don’t know everybody’s issues anymore, but you do know they’re being cared for better than you could have. So, what’s the difference between recruiting and training volunteers versus developing leaders?

EDWARDS: I think recruiting and training are kind of one-moment things, but developing leaders is something that happens over time. When we’re inviting leaders onto our team, that’s a one-time thing where they’re taking a leap. Then we train them for specific things—for serving at camp or as a small-group leader or as a retreat leader. But I think leadership development is something that happens over time. I think our development plan for the care and coaching of leaders is a key to holding onto them long-term.


FIELDS: Because we have such desperate needs in youth ministry, we tend to find somebody who can simply fill that need. Then we turn our back on them and run to the next task. I think many youth workers feel guilty that they don’t have the time to do leadership development. It’s like, I know I should work with parents, but that takes a lot of time away from my other responsibilities. You know, you’re a master at caring for people and pouring into their lives.

EDWARDS: Well I think that’s where that switch comes in—when you’re willing to die a little death to spend some time developing two or three key leaders so they can, in turn, develop the next two or three leaders. Look at development as a seasonal thing—”For this season my student time is going to be limited because I’m going to spend some significant time developing leaders.” You can add some student-time back in after that season because you’ve developed leaders who can develop leaders.


FIELDS: What’s one of those secret “Katie tips” when it comes to developing leaders?

EDWARDS: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is individual attention. If you can give a leader some one-on-one time—know their story and their gifts and what they love—that helps you launch leaders to the next level. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the lead youth worker spending the time—it can be another volunteer. When volunteers don’t get individual attention, we definitely see a difference. There’s loss of connection. We’re not motivating them to the next level and we’re not hearing what God’s doing in their life or their ministry. In a perfect world every volunteer would get a lot of individual attention. It’s so tough because it’s another time issue.


FIELDS: The other day my wife said to me (she’s leading a high school small group): “The youth ministry leaders do such a good job affirming me. They almost affirm me too much.” But then she came back from a really rough weekend retreat, and Kathy said, “This is a time when they need to affirm me!”

EDWARDS: (laughs) This is a time when I need a little treat! Yeah, any little efforts to offer care or encouragement are definitely the way you keep leaders around for the long haul. Discouraging moments will come and go, but they’ll really remember the care they received.


FIELDS: For some of us that kind of thing doesn’t come naturally, so we might have to do something that looks a little formulaic—develop a system. Early on in my ministry, Kathy and I used to go to a restaurant where we’d list our volunteers on napkins, then give them each a grade—A, B, or C. And then we asked what if, instead of grading them every week, we just made a list and asked ourselves a few questions. When have I called this person? When have I written this person? When have I made a face-to-face connection? When have I asked about their life? When we started asking these questions, then doing something about it, we saw the grades go up. But I needed that reminder because it didn’t just come naturally for me. So, Katie, what are some things that we miss about what motivates volunteers?

EDWARDS: You know, volunteers want to give of their time and serve. Often they’re just waiting to be asked. I see volunteers motivated when we call and say, “Hey, we know you do this—we could really use you.” We make a specific “ask.” Sometimes as youth workers we can be afraid to ask: “Oh, she’s a mom and she might not have time cause her life’s crazy.” We have to give them the freedom to say no.


FIELDS: Yeah, it’s communicating “you matter.” People want to be a part of a team. A volunteer told me last week, “I like working with you because you really want our ideas.” It’s not my team; it’s our team.

EDWARDS: And I think once you open that door, once you ask a couple of times, then they start coming to you with the big ideas. You don’t have to ask for them. You know, this guy Steve knew we were having a New Year’s Eve dance with our teenagers. And he was like, “I can build a replica of the ball that drops in Times Square.” He came to us with a fun, big idea that none of us would’ve thought of.

The above article, “Developing Adult Leaders” was written by Doug Fields. The article was excerpted from Group Magazine.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

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.”