If you’ve been in ministry for longer than five minutes, you’ve been around rockstar youth leaders. You know the type — they connect effortlessly with teens, are faithful in showing up week after week, and to top it off, have a devotion to Jesus in a category all its own.
Like many youth pastors, you may have inherited a youth program. (For whatever reason, someone else use to be the pastor and at some point, you found yourself as the new guy.) With that inheritance (for better or for worse, right?) you probably got a few youth leaders in the mix, as well. If any time has gone by, some of those have probably left and some may have stuck around.
It can all feel like such a crap shoot — why leaders choose to stay or find themselves greener pastures.
But let me assure you: it’s anything but a crap shoot!
I’m convinced that there are 3 keys to ensure those rockstar youth leaders won’t leave you:
1. Genuinely Care for Them
Whaaat, Laura? You might be saying. OF COURSE I care for my leaders! Fine and dandy, I’d respond. But do they know it? Can they feel it, and do you, both in word and action, demonstrate your care for your leaders in such practical ways that there’s no earthly way they could miss it? Because if you’re not going the extra mile, doing everything in your power to show those leaders how much you care, I’d encourage you to start!
And don’t you let yourself be the reason they’re hightailin’ it out of the youth room. Their choice to move or step down for personal reasons, which of course will and do happen, should never be about what you did or didn’t do.
But what does this look like practically? Some folks have love language of words of affirmation. Others will fall more in line with the acts of service. Whatever their love language, find it and lean into it.
When your leaders walk in for a prayer meeting or right before youth group, are you taking a minute to let them know how much you care? “John, thanks so much for always making yourself available. We so appreciate the work you do with these teens; I hope you know how valued you are.”
I don’t know ’bout y’all, but an encouragement like that…well, I can ride on those words for a good three months.
Words are important and words matter — be verbally encouraging to your leaders.
They’re not paid and volunteering their time with arguably the hardest demographic to serve. These leaders should get some praise.
Ask them about their home life – how was little Johny’s soccer game? How’s that cross stitch project coming? Are they signing up for another color run race? If you are in a situation like my husband and I were (he as the youth pastor, myself as his right-hand woman/unpaid staff), then by all means, let your spouse handle primarily encouraging those of the opposite sex.
2. Pray for Them
You know we weren’t going to miss the first value of a Gospel Advancing Ministry, right? (Psst…want to learn more about the movement sweeping the nation in Gospel Advancing Ministry? Go here.)
Of utmost importance, and something even pastors struggle with, we need to make praying for our leaders a priory. You’re probably fully aware that praying for people draws us nearer to them and to God. It has this crazy way of stirring our affections for our brothers and sisters, allowing us to care for them in an even greater way.
Feel free to ask your leaders for personal prayer requests, and especially if you’re a youth pastor. Take an entire morning to pray for them along for your ministry. That time will never be wasted, and only result in more fruit.
An easy to way to set up prayer requests might be to send out a weekly email or text, that way you never forget (or, if you’re like me, go ahead and set a reoccurring alarm on your phone so you really don’t forget).
3. Invest in Them
When people are cared for, prayed for and invested in, they are going to feel as if they’re in the sweetest spot of their life. And by golly, we should give that to them!
If nothing else, because we are family in Christ and it’s a way to honor the Lord and serve those people. At the very least, you’ll create a culture within your ministry that is one of genuine love and growth.
Taking some time and investing into your leaders is worth its weight in gold.
You as the primary leader cannot afford to do everything. But what you can do, one up from duplicating yourself, is pour into leaders who have different personalities to reach teens in unique ways. You can teach and train, leading the way in prayer, theology and best practices.
The single way we found to be most effective in investing into our leaders was having a monthly leadership meeting.
Nearly “mandatory” (because we’re all about grace, but we were anything but wishy washy on our expectation that they would be there), our leadership meetings were held on the first Sunday of every month. We took away the two biggest reasons people have for not coming to anything: food and childcare. We found a youth group mom who loved to cook and serve joyfully, and each month, she blessed our socks off by cooking an amazing meal for all the leaders on a budget. We’d reimburse her out the youth budget, and I promise you, those dollars were some of the best spent.
Junior High and Senior High leaders would come together in our church’s gym which was attached to a small kitchen. Leaders would grab some food, sit at a round table, and Jason, my husband, would kick the meeting off in prayer as they were eating. He then would do a vision casting time, letting the leaders know where the ministry was headed, celebrating the wins of the last month, and casting a vision for how things could be within the ministry. This got us all excited, renewed our love for serving, as well as helped us to look back and look forward with expectation.
From there, we would then divide into some specific groups: I would teach the majority of leaders on a practical issue (such as how to deal with cutting or a theological topic). The student leaders would meet together, and the department heads (or those overseeing an aspect of the ministry) would also meet together.
Each section being a half hour, for a total of a two hour meeting. We would then split off further — Jason and I would meet with the student leaders (a few key senior high leaders) and discuss ministry for the next month, making plans, getting our ducks in a row and brainstorming.
Ending in our time together, we’d divide ourselves by place of service. Worship would sit at one table, I would be with the senior high leaders and the junior high leaders met simultaneously across the room, with Jason floating among us all. We used this time to get prayer requests for each other, talk about struggles and joys of serving in our respective areas during the past month, and encourage other movements forward.
I am not one who enjoys meetings, but those meetings were invaluable. Giving your leaders a time to connect that is also purposeful is key. Fellowship just to fellowship isn’t strategic, and a simple meeting can be a bore. We found combining the two once a month to be incredibly advantageous as we worked on tangible goals and inspired for the month and year ahead.
I can’t promise that leaders will never leave your ministry. Sometimes, there are legitimate reasons why someone may need to step down. But as far as it concerns you, if you care for, pray for, and invest in those leaders, it’ll be quite hard for them to say goodbye when that time does come.