Youth Ministry Includes Developing Young Leaders

By: 

Jeb Egbert

For any ministry to have lasting impact, new leaders must be identified, trained and mobilized.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus was active in making disciples. That work included seeking the lost, nurturing believers and equipping workers. But Jesus did not stop there—he placed high priority on another essential aspect of disciplemaking: multiplying and sending leaders. Jesus’ apprentice leaders, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, gave birth to the disciplemaking movement we know as the Christian church.

Through the church, Jesus continues his disciplemaking work in our world today. An essential part of that work is multiplying and sending a new generation of leaders. Youth ministry is a particularly fruitful place for such leadership development to occur.

Within a youth group in a local church, young believers who have developed into workers are identified, encouraged, equipped and mobilized to become leaders within the youth group itself and within the congregation at large. But what is involved in helping a young disciple of Jesus to become a leader? For starters, the right candidates must be identified.

Identifying emerging leaders

An appropriate candidate for leadership development within a youth group is a young disciple of Jesus who is AFT’R more—one who is available, faithful, teachable and responsive.

Available young disciples are ones who have been willing to clear their calendar to make great commandment/great commission ministry a priority in their lives.

Faithful young disciples have demonstrated endurance over a period of time. The fruit of God’s Holy Spirit is evident. They exhibit a spiritual consistency and predictability. They have shown themselves “faithful in little.”

Teachable young disciples are humble enough to learn and to be accountable to leadership within the youth group and congregation. To be a good leader, one must first be (and continue to be) a good follower.

Responsive young disciples have team spirit expressed through contagious enthusiasm and passion. Through a young leader’s appropriately directed passion, youths catch a commitment to Christ, to the local church, to the youth group and to the church’s disciplemaking mission.

Critical success factors of multiplying leaders

Would you as a youth ministry leader like to be more active and successful in giving birth to young leaders within and through your youth group? Would you like to be a multiplying leader? If so, you need to be aware of certain success factors that you must possess.

First, you need to have a clear vision about the future and be able to articulate it regularly and clearly to the members of your group—particularly to the emerging young leaders. The vision is not something that needs to be created, because Jesus already provides it. Jesus’ vision for our ministries is that we would fulfill the great commission (to make disciples who make disciples) motivated by a great commandment heart of love for God and for people. A multiplying leader passionately and clearly articulates this vision for emerging leaders.

The second critical success factor is the ability to actively pursue ministry in and through the local church within the limitations of local resources and conditions. For example, what type of outreach activity might be most successful in your community, given the resources (people, time and money, to name a few) available? Multiplying leaders have the ability to pursue the great commission within their own context.

The third factor is passion. A ho-hum attitude neither sparks nor sustains movements. Relentless, God-anointed enthusiasm does.

The fourth factor is making leadership development a top priority in your life and ministry. Multiplying leaders requires lots of energy and lots of time to provide focused mentoring and coaching for emerging leaders, which includes sharing ministry vision, discussing issues and providing developmental feedback. Jesus himself invested heavily in a small number of individuals, even though the masses were constantly vying for his attention.

The fifth critical success factor is the ability to share leadership with emerging leaders. We see this factor in Jesus’ earthly ministry—he carefully, intentionally and frequently sent out his disciples into ministry. Emerging leaders must be allowed to try on what they are learning. Much like a parent with a child, a multiplying leader allows the emerging leader to gain lots of hands-on leadership experience—moving from theory into practice. This strategy means taking risks—allowing the emerging leader to make mistakes, to fall down from time to time in the process of gaining experience.

Multiplying leaders are prayer-dependent

Before the selection of the twelve disciples in his inner circle, Jesus did a remarkable thing. He spent all night in prayer. Though he was fully God, Jesus was fully human, and he faithfully and consistently sought the will of his heavenly Father. He did so in the selection of those who would partner with him in leading a world-changing ministry. As those who are responsible for selecting and developing emerging young leaders, we too must rely on God’s direction through prayer. In prayer we seek to see in people what God sees—things not always discernable to human eyes. As we do, we may be in for some surprises.

You may remember how God surprised his servant Samuel and taught him an amazing lesson about leadership when it was time for King Saul to be replaced. Samuel was certain that he had found the next king of Israel when he was introduced to Jesse’s strapping first-born son. But God told Samuel that he was looking at the wrong thing. It was not until the rather unimpressive (by human standards) youngest brother was reluctantly brought before Samuel that God confirmed the next leader of his nation: the young shepherd boy David.

Jesus would probably not be considered a good candidate for leadership in the corporate world of the 21st century. He spent an enormous amount of time with people, loving them and serving them. What corporate leader would get down on his knees and wash his employees’ feet? Which one would enter the city on a lowly donkey? Which one would have the humility to give up the glory of heaven in order to experience the reality of life in our fallen world?

The point is, developing leaders is serious business—we need God’s constant guidance. We understand that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts—his ways are not our ways. The worldly model of what makes a leader is not his model. Some of the most inspiring godly leaders I have known have been common people who, filled with the Holy Spirit, did remarkable things on behalf of the kingdom.

For youth ministry to be sustained, the model that Jesus demonstrated in prayerfully investing in a few available, faithful, teachable and responsive leaders is instructive. For our youth ministries to be outposts of the kingdom that will make disciples who make disciples, the charge to us is clear: let’s be active in multiplying and sending young leaders.

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