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  • Hannah Williamson

Building a Strong Youth Team


One of my favourite memories of leading our youth ministry was my youth team. Every term we would meet to pray, plan and feedback on how things were going and so all these youth leaders would pile into my very small house. Everyone would come into my porch and take off their shoes and so there would be huge pile of them leaving a disgusting smell! Everyone would come in and I would make dinner for what I saw as ‘my family.’ People would practically be sitting on each other but it didn’t matter because we were together around a common cause which was our heart to see young people find Jesus and grow in their relationship with him. There was a certain camaraderie that grew, probably because of the amount of time we spent so much time together. I just loved being able to see this team make such a difference in our town.


Many of the questions I often get asked when helping churches with their youth ministries is around the area of how to develop a team of dedicated, passionate and hard working youth leaders and so below are a few of my thoughts on what I learnt in leading a youth ministry for 15 years.


 


Grow your own.

“David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam, When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down there to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered round him, and he became their commander.” 1 Samuel 22:1


This is somewhat of a questionable leadership strategy at first glance. David somehow manages to gather the ‘problematic’ people and form a team. I think when it comes to the development of any team, there can be a sense that we want the ‘best of the bunch’ and logically speaking that would be amazing. If you look at Jesus he also had a similar strategy of gathering an ‘unusual’ group of young men who most, people probably wouldn’t pick. I have found my best youth leaders have grown out of young people who might not have been your typical ones to lead, but they have been open to learning about how to be a leader and then have risen to every opportunity put their way. Most of my youth team were always between the ages of 17-21. There were a few absolute gems in their late 20’s/early 30’s and then I always had one older woman who was an absolute legend of a youth leader but they are certainly rare to find. The best way to build a strong youth team in my opinion is to develop young people aged 15-18 to lead their peers. They can relate to them, they are likely to ‘give it a go’ if you challenge them to do something and they are often teachable. You’ll be amazed at what a bunch of young people can achieve when given the opportunity - just look at the disciples….they started the early church and were probably just young men!


Give a significant amount of your time to them.

“…so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8


Paul is speaking to the church in Thessalonica and I love this epistle because it speaks so much about the care of people - it is so obvious that Paul cared about those he was writing to. When it comes to building a strong team, you have to commit to spending time with them. The reason you have a team is so that they can reach and disciple young people and so I think your number one responsibility is to them. Take an interest in their lives, know when their birthdays are, let them into your world. One of the things we did as a youth team was ensure we spent time together both before and after our youth programme. Once the young people arrived our focus was solely on speaking to, connecting with and helping young people. My youth team would arrive, often at different times after work or college and we would sit together and chat about how our weeks had been. We would then spend time sharing what we felt God was saying for the night to come and pray together. Not only did we meet before the youth programme started, but once we had finished and the young people had left, we would once again sit together and take time to talk through how the night had gone - sometimes we would laugh together at antics the young people had got up to and sometimes we would cry as someone recounted a painful situation that a young person was facing. Whenever a team member had a birthday we would use this opportunity to bring a cake out. I firmly believe all these seemingly small things helped to build a strong team who would serve every week.


Model to them what you expect them to be to your young people.

You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord…” 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6


Your role is to pour into your youth team so that they will pour into young people. I think sometimes youth pastors make the mistake of thinking they have to disciple every young person - you just can’t! Thats why you need a team, especially if you want to grow your youth ministry. There are a number of ways you can do this but I will share just a few. I always had a small group of young people that I poured into. Over the years our team developed and to be honest, I didn’t need to have a small group - I could have spent my time checking that our small groups were running well but I chose to ensure that I was doing what I expected my team to do. Every week I would sit with my ‘small group’ of girls which was about 15-20 hyper 15 year olds and attempt to lead some kind of discussion. It was always wild and you could barely get a word in. My youth team would have seen me doing this and then heard the stories once we got to our debrief session at the end of the night. This wasn’t ‘beneath me’ now that I had been leading for over 12 years. I wanted to model my commitment to the young people because I wanted them to have that same level of commitment.


Let them lead

“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 4:17


I love how Paul developed Timothy and allowed him to lead. We can see that in the above verse where he sends him to go and encourage a church. It is so vital when growing a strong youth team that you actually allow your team to lead and don’t hog all the leading to yourself. Let them connect with young people, lead them to Jesus and disciple them. Let them preach in your youth services or let them lead games. Ultimately your youth ministry is not about you but about you encouraging and developing everyone else. It can be easy to want to take the limelight and find our value in what we do, but don’t do that and ensure you are always pushing others on. As a young person I was encouraged to lead even when I was shy and under-confident but it built so much into me and it was ultimately what taught me to lead.


Let them see and catch your God-given passion.

Besides everything else, I face the daily pressure of my concern for all the churches.” 2 Corinthians 11:28


We can see in the above verse that Paul felt such passion for the churches he was helping to build and support. If you are not passionate about reaching and discipling young people, do not expect your team to be. It is so important that your team can see and hear what you feel about the young people. Let them hear you pray with passion. Let them see some raw emotion when something difficult happens with a young person. There were times when we were working with gang members that awful things happened. It broke my heart. I could have kept this to myself, but the reality was I needed the youth team to understand the pain I felt so that we could pray and believe God for changes in our town. Talk about what you are believing for. Share what you want to see God do in the lives of the young people. If you are not burdened about reaching and helping young people then I am not sure you are in the right line of ministry! Allow yourself to see what God sees when he looks at your young people and then share that with your team.


 

I realise in these current times we live, that people in all areas of church are struggling to recruit and retain volunteers. The challenges can be overwhelming but I would encourage you to take one step in the right direction - whether that means arranging to meet a team member for coffee to encourage them or identifying a young leader you can pour into. As you do that I believe God will help you to identify the next step and the step after that so that you can build a healthy team that reaches many young people with the love of Jesus.



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