Over the last 25 years of full time ministry (as a church planter, youth guy and para-church director) I have seen all sorts of youth leaders. Some are like falling stars, a bright streak of light who are brilliant but short lived. Others are like sun rises, slow at first but brilliant with time.
The youth leaders with longevity and impact are not always the flashiest but most have at least 3 common disciplines they consistently exemplify:
1. The Discipline of Prayer
Youth leaders worth their salt know where the shaker is. They know it’s not found in the latest youth ministry idea books but in the very Throne room of God. These youth pastors lead from their knees so the decisions they make are sound, not silly.
The discipline of prayer these youth leaders live by is rooted in consistent immersion in Scripture and a passion to live out their faith authentically. Like Paul in Philippians 3:10-14 these leaders are not perfect (nor do they claim to be) but they are surging forward toward the goal of being who God called them to be, all the while finding their strength in Jesus to get them there.
2. The Discipline of Fitness
When I use the word “fitness” I don’t mean just sweating on a treadmill in a gym or flipping kettlebells over their shoulders in their basement. I mean a general lifestyle fitness that extends from the youth leader’s own physical health to relational health to learning and to rest.
Speaking of Jesus in his development years in Luke 2:52 Luke wrote, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus grew fit educationally, physically (how else could he have endured the horror of the cross?), spiritually and relationally.
Youth leaders who finish the marathon of youth ministry victoriously must strike the balance of overall lifestyle health. Struggling personal relationships, a lack of reading widely combined with fast food clogging your mind and arteries is a recipe for burn out (and a heart attack!)
Mixing in some cardio and weight training every now and again won’t hurt either.
3. The Discipline of Intentionality
Effective youth leaders are intentional youth leaders.
They are intentional about mission. They are not in youth ministry just to exercise a standard program. They are locked into a church for a specific mission, to make disciples who make disciples. These youth leaders know their prime directive is from Jesus himself, to “go and make disciples of all nations” starting in their “Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
They are intentional about planning. They take heed to Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs 21:5, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.” These youth leaders understand the importance of spending time prioritizing their calendars with the “big rocks first” before the gravel and sand of lesser things takes up their schedules.
They are intentional about excellence. Effective youth leaders don’t just plan well they execute well. They do this through hard work and effective delegation. They gather around them an excellent team and lift up a standard of high quality from programming to people. What they lack in budget they make up for in sweat equity, creativity, persistence and prayer.
They are intentional about evaluation. These youth leaders don’t just do a series of events, talks and programming and just keep chugging along. They take time to ask the hard questions like, “How well did that go?” “What were the outcomes?” “Did it needed to be done at all?” and “How could we have made it better?”
These are three of the disciplines I have witnessed effective youth leaders incarnate over the long haul. What are some of the other disciplines that you think should be added to this list?