Youth events: Leading from within

November 12th, 2015

High-carb, high-sugar menu...check.
Games that involve large amounts of marshmallows...check.
Volunteer for the pie in the face...check.
Youth space large enough for the game of ultimate frisbee...check.

Youth directors spend much of their time creating spaces for youth to connect, learn about God, and build relationships. But how often do they include youth themselves in planning youth ministry events? The priesthood of all believers and the ministry of the congregation include the youth. Further, it can be tough recruiting volunteers. The Bible says something like, “the harvest is great but the workers are few.” As you look for volunteers, look to the youth.

Engaging the Senior Pastor

Talk to the senior pastor about how you can incorporate leadership-focused training sessions with key youth as a part of event planning.

Months prior to the event, start identifying youth to target for long-term development. Decide what’s best for your ministry.

Look at your church event calendar. Identify the events that would be best for youth leadership.

Get the pastor’s support to navigate the established leadership. Together you can cast a clear vision to the congregation and laity on how you would like to develop youth for service.

Keep an open mind. If you are a youth director who’s used to handling things on your own, this may be hard at first. Don’t underestimate your youth. Youth have many gifts and abilities. You will be surprised how much you can release or delegate when you have willing and eager servants.

Establish safe sanctuary policies. Review your church’s policies regarding youth. It’s important that you have procedures in place to protect your adults, youth, and event participants. As responsibilities are established, youth must understand the parameters to reduce risk as they serve.

Sharing the Load

Once you have identified the youth you’d like to engage, begin putting plans in place for training and support. The key to turning over tasks is thinking of how you can equip your young volunteers. You must be clear about the responsibilities and how you will hold each other accountable. Spend time evaluating their gifts and how they will fit into the scope of things. Leadership development is just as much about planning as it is about executing. There are also many connectional places you can send youth for additional training. Talk to your district youth coordinator or district superintendent for ways you can connect your youth to training within The United Methodist Church. They may also be able to provide resources to include in your planning. Remember that you are not alone.

The Ask

Once you have identified your youth leaders, find out if they actually want to lead. What do they want to do? Where do they think their gifts lie? What skills would they like to improve? Do they have fresh ideas for the event or the ministry? This might take more than one meeting. Spend some time getting to know them and their strengths and potential for leading. Listening is the best thing you can do at this stage. The more you learn, the more you can ensure that you’re meeting your youth where they are spiritually and developmentally.

It’s very important that you don’t treat your youth as tokens. You are the key to a process that engages them with dignity and respect, empowering them to lead with real responsibility. It can be fun being on a leadership team, but it’s also hard work, with possible conflict in a complex church culture. We naturally want to protect our youth from the challenges that come with leadership, but preparing them is the best thing you can do for a budding leader. Let them know all that’s involved in serving.

Be honest and tell them exactly what’s expected of them. Assure them that you’re committed to their success and will be there with them every step of the way.

Divine Direction

As a youth worker, you already know the many facets of ministry, event planning, and developing solid programming. Prepare yourself with a “full armor” for this exciting but tough work. Start with an official commissioning ceremony with the pastor in front of the congregation. Allow the congregation and pastor to join you on your spiritual journey as you serve together. As a part of the ceremony, allow them to pray for you and your leadership team. After the service, ask for their continued prayer as you move forward in the planning of the event. Pray and stay rooted in the word to be spiritually prepared for this work of planting seeds. Reflect on where God is leading you and your youth. Allow God to help you discern and identify the right leaders for serving in the ministry. Pray for God to lift them up beyond this project or program and cover them as they learn to hear God’s call. Allow God to strengthen you as you build a community of servants who are committed to sharing the light of Christ with the world.

If your cup is empty, it will be very difficult to fill someone else’s, so stay connected. Don’t isolate yourself as you juggle the tasks of event planning and leading a young team. Find an experienced person you can share your successes and challenges with. It’s empowering to know there are people out there praying with and for you.

Give Thanks!

Leading is a great thing! Before, during, and after your event, lift up your youth and their accomplishments. Have a party, buy them ice cream, or go on a celebratory outing. Commitment and service should be recognized. When you show your appreciation for your youth leaders, they will be more inclined to continue to serve because they’ll know you value and love them. You can never over-thank your volunteers! Whether it’s a youth Sunday event, retreat, or vacation Bible school, be thankful that you have a church with youth who want to serve. Even if all you have is one or two youth, God is giving you fertile soil to plant seeds. Trust God to make them grow. Work together with other churches in your area to bring young leaders together. Combine efforts and resources for a larger impact.

When you’re looking for people to volunteer and serve in your ministry, start with youth. Investing in your young people reinforces the commitment to growing the church and building a solid foundation for its long-term vitality. So look within your ministry when planning your next event; I guarantee you will find youth who are anointed with gifts and ready to be a blessing to the world. I’m sure you’ll be blessed, too!

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