Why Youth Leaders Fail

By: Charles T. Smith

Nothing is more strategic to the high school department and total youth ministry than an effective working relationship between the adult sponsors and the youth officers. It is right here that the real struggle for success is won or lost. As one youth sponsor put it, “This is where the action is,” Without positive direction on this level you, as a sponsor, will not experience the success you hope for.

Through several years of personal involvement in church youth ministries, I have observed four ways in which adult sponsors have worked with teens who were assigned or elected to certain responsibilities in a youth department. From my viewpoint, the first three ways are games which should NOT be played by adults engaged in youth work.

I. Hold your seat

One game youth sponsors often play is called, “Hold your seat,” or “Let me do it.” It’s like an athlete’s buying season tickets for some friends so they may attend the games in which he is starring. What the
athlete is really saying is, “Here are some free tickets: now come watch me perform.” In other words, just hold your seat.

Youth sponsors frequently play this game and it actually has its advantages. If the adult is talented, he can be assured of a smooth-running program. For the perfectionist, this may be the only way to realize the “ideals” of youth work. After all, the youth will be “learning how” a program can be conducted well, or how a social can become a success.

But there are definite disadvantages to playing “Hold your seat,” such as:

1. Teens are not content to be mere spectators. They want to make their own worthwhile contributions to the church.

2. After some training, teens can often do a more effective and creative job in a particular responsibility than adult leaders can.

3. Young people learn more readily the true meaning of the Christian life and its obligations by getting involved in expression and activities rather than by passively watching adults.

4. Youth leaders, often untrained, wear out quite rapidly in this game. It’s difficult, if not impossible, successfully to entertain youth who are being beguiled, taught, and led by professionals on all other levels such as TV, school, etc.

II. Dump the ball

When “Hold your seats” fails to be productive, youth leaders soon fall back on the second and easier game of “Dump the ball.” Perhaps they have attended a Christian education conference and heard a speaker say, “We must give our young people responsibility!” So they dump the whole program into the laps of the teens. This is like the coach approaching his team and saying, “Here’s the stadium, the equipment, and a book on game strategy. Now go to it. Get out there and win!”

But it doesn’t just HAPPEN! Oh sure, some teens may be excited about the initial possibilities of being in complete control, but underneath, their basic insecurities and lack of experience will soon bring the group to disillusionment, discouragement, and failure. Providing a meeting room, curriculum, a plan of organization, (including a job analysis for each officer), will never, alone, produce responsible officers and a fruitful youth ministry. Even the ablest teen leaders of high school and college age will flounder under
these circumstances.

III. Play it by ear

In this game, neither the group nor the sponsor does any planning. Every one simply plays it by ear without planning, committees, or officers. It is as if a coach had no strategy for the team, and not even training sessions.

The group runs strictly by felt needs, either needs of the group or of the leader. They go from week to week without setting spiritual goals or planning for programs or activities. The group runs on a series of

This game usually brings few accomplishments or spiritual goals since “if you aim at nothing you’ll hit it.”

IV. Concentration

In reading the Gospel accounts of Christ’s earthly ministry, you soon discover our Saviour’s underlying pattern in working with His twelve “officers.” It may be irreverent to call Him a sponsor, but He would
have filled the bill perfectly. He called His disciples, taught them, then delegated to them responsibility commensurate with, and at times greater than, their knowledge and skill. Frequently they failed, but
He always continued to spark them on by meeting with them regularly for evaluation, further instruction, and for assignments of future responsibilities and projects. He never ceased to pray for their development and saw to it that they experienced a measure of success, without which they might have become dropouts.

Out of Christ’s twelve “executive officers,” eleven were eventually successes, but one was a great disappointment and failure. Not all the fruit of time and energy Christ gave in the development of these lives for Christian service was seen during His three years of active ministry on earth. But later, these men became known as those who “turned the world upside down.”

It is quite likely that the fruit resulting from your energies and time spent as a sponsor in your church youth ministry will not all be evident in the immediate future. Christian maturity comes only through
a process of divine transformation, and is always dependent upon the willingness of the subject. At times sponsors find they are struggling with a “Judas,” in the sense that, as an officer, one youth fails to develop positively and finally becomes a “lame duck.”

Once an officer is duly installed, however, it is the sponsor’s responsibility to guide and help this teen in the completion of his duties. If the young person fails to do his part, serious counseling sessions should be held in an effort to correct his weaknesses. Removing an officer from his position is a last resort which demands
great wisdom and tact.

Sometimes it is good for the youth officers to taste failure, just as it is good at times for adults in their responsibilities. Experiencing failure is just part of the maturing process, but if it is to lead to future successes, it should be followed by evaluation periods with constructive, positive steps outlined for meetings and activities to come. Nothing succeeds like success. When a teen is given a responsibility sponsors must, under the power of the Spirit, do all they can to see him experience some degree of success. When the young people succeed, we as sponsors have succeeded.

When youth sponsors play those three games described earlier, they are putting their youth ministry in a suicide dive, or at least placing it upon a very hit-and-miss basis. Since we are seeking to carry on a
ministry that will make permanent marks upon the lives of our officer, we are obligated to follow in the pattern of Christ. As Christ’s person and methods changed the world, so can we change the world of
our youth ministry by following in His steps.

(The original publisher of the above material is unknown.)

Christian Information Network