Arrogant Student Leaders

Teen pop girlA couple weeks ago I received this question through my youth ministry website… I’ll edit for brevity:


I recently moved churches, from a church in MN to a church of the same denomination in FL due to my husband’s job. When I got to the church, a lot of feelings were hurt because the prior, very much loved youth director had left to go to the mega church down the street. He took with him a good amount of people.

There were three student leaders in place, each running ministry on their own. I talked about changing that and was met with lots of anger and resentment from them.

My issue is that the youth have let the power go to their heads. They do not want adults involved with their teams. They want to be the head of the teams. They feel as though any adult would micro-manage them.

So now I am unsure of what to do. While I explained that the purpose of the adults is to support them and encourage them; they were not at all ready to have it.

Do I fight them on this? Do I require adults involved in each team or not at all?

Thank you!!!


What would you tell Christine? I’d love to hear your two cents in the comments below.

If you’re curious how I responded to her, you can see my answer on our ASK THE SOURCE page.

Posted on October 5, 2011

  • Jason K

    It seems fairly oblivous that their arrogence is their response to a situation i.which they got hurt. This is a huge opportunity for discipleship. Instead of wagging your finger and admonishing them not to be prideful your priority ought to be helping them see how the gospel meets them where they are at. What does the Gospel say to their pain? How does grace inform their response? How can they achieve greater intimacy with Christ through this? Praise them and encourage them for what they are doing. Don't beat them over the head with the standards that they are not meeting – confront them with grace and their hearts will be changed by the gospel. Humility and accountability ought to be the byproducts not the goal.

    • I like that perspective, Jason. Taking time to invest into each of them personally outside of ministry will probably go a long way in a situation like this.

  • Me and my face agrees. If they are not ripping the ministry apart and are owning their area of ministry all they want to see is where your heart is as the new person. If you invest in them and let your intentions be known, that you want to see them succeed in life and ministry and you are there for that very reason, then over time, and by time I would say off hand… a year, you will be able to really poor into their lives. Now if they are forming clicks, us and them, then more real conversations need to happen. Try this, meet with them all, or one on one and ask them, "help me understand what you guys are going through and what happened here upon the former youth pastors departure? What emotions are you feeling?" And be ready for their responses as best as you can be. Do not promise anything at this time just listen and listen and listen and then share your heart for student ministry if it feels right. Anyone want to add to this or take away?

    • I'd guess that teens would probably not really give a lot of straight answers to those questions mostly because they may not have thought that deep about it. And when it's coming from a new guy who's replacing someone that hurt them, the discussion may not be that helpful. However, I would still pose the question when I felt it was the appropriate time and place with the appropriate people. I probably just wouldn't get my hopes up too much about the responses.

      • In my experiences when I came in to the position I am serving at now the students were ready to be heard and wanted to be heard. I was actually overwhelmed with the amount of emotion that they had been bottling up. But, they were a very passionate crowd and it was 5 years ago. If it were the students I have now they would be quite and perhaps not a conversational as one would like. What does anyone think about your youth groups attitude as a whole. For example I went from having really out going do anything kine of students and now they are more shy but and love serving but the middle schoolers that are coming up are going to be a force to be reckoned with, in a great way. Does anyone else notice this in their ministry?

  • Jesse

    This is similar to the culture I inherited at my current ministry. My predecessor, if what parents and leaders share with me is accurate, hand picked his favorite students for the leadership team to the personal neglect of all others. Naturally then, the student ministry was plagued by a self-destructive and toxically cliquish culture. That's not to say that cliques of all kinds are absolutely toxic, but this particular ministry's culture was the perfect recipe to tank a sizable (200+) group into oblivion… and it did. Add to the mix the fact that the Bible was not taught as it should have been and you get a dismal scene. God called me to this beautiful mess to begin again the work of love that had so helped my previous ministry. He gave me a clear sense of vision and direction; a culture of love and deeply challenging expository teaching… that was it.

    So, when I came on board, I clearly and lovingly as I could communicated this simple twofold vision of love and Bible to the small group of leaders and students who remained. I clearly articulated to them my sense of vision and direction for the ministry. I very gently, but very explicitly said, "I am disbanding the student leadership team for now." It was such a source of pain for the ministry because it was not done well. Since it's such a sore spot for my students, we will not be organizing one for at least another year. Because of the Holy Spirit's healing and because of the clear sense of purpose I shared, the former student leaders jumped on board to our new direction without a hitch. Student leadership, when it's carefully guided by adult leadership, can be great. Giving kids ownership is a really cool thing and sometimes helps with numerical growth ("Hey, come watch me do this…"). However, students do not inherently know how to run student ministries, so they need some guidance in the process.

    9 months later, we're truckin'. These kids are DEVOURING the word book-by-book and it has brought about such a powerful move of God in the community. They're nuts. They're pursuing holiness like machines and are extremely mission-minded. We had a student mission on every continent but one this summer! Even though we've deliberately taken a more discipleship oriented focus for the first nine months, we have actually seen the student ministry return to a healthy size that is beyond 15% of the church's attendance. They're evangelizing machines. The past two weeks, we have seen two former atheistic students profess Jesus as Lord and have kept the baptistry splashing. (Sorry for the digression. I get excited writing about my kids.) Anyway, Christine, I would prayerfully consider a scripturally sound sense of vision and purpose for the ministry, clearly and repetitively communicate it, and usher in a season without that kind of student leadership until the Holy Spirit's healing makes it a beneficial part of your ministry again in the future. This is what worked in my context and hopefully there's some wisdom to be applied to yours as well. As far as it depends upon you, be at peace with these three students in the process. Understand, however, that there is a chance they may leave as a result. If they do, you're a good shepherd to chase them down. You're also a good shepherd to consider the well-being of your other sheep. All in all, I pray that the Holy Spirit ministers healing and gently brings these students to a place of humility.

    • This sounds so similar to my experience. Good advice. I think you have to articulate the goals & expectations. It doesn't mean you have to drop it on them like a bomb but definitely be clear & firm in your expectations. Good stuff right there!

  • Along with what some of the first few posts said, I wouldn't get involved. I would try to work on them in a one on one type context. Let them run the ministries…they're already doing it, and I get how someone coming in from the outside can come across as threatening, or even arrogant themselves. I don't think that's the case, but I think that's how a kid sees it. They may not be arrogant student leaders at all, but just not want to see something destroyed after what they just went through.

  • It seems that some of the comments above have addressed what I was thinking which is that this seems like a key point to do some serious relationship building. For one, the young people will be grieving and it's always going to be hard. By building relationships the youth worker will have more opportunities to have their own ideas heard and more influence as the student leaders begin to trust more.

    I'm not entirely sure I see the youth as arrogant either. I think that they have been quite empowered and that's a good thing. How they express that of course could be improved but I don't think that we can just discourage them from maintaining their leadership roles if they are doing positive/constructive work simply bc an adult isn't in charge. I wrote a few posts about that bc I'm pretty passionate about youth empowerment and participation.

    I replied on Twitter that maybe some time could be spent exploring what a participative youth environment can look like in partnership based on Hart's ladder of participation which I explored in this post about youth being central to youth work.

    I do agree about humility in leadership, but I think that it can go both ways between youth workers and young people. Take some time to learn and get to know the youth then begin to make whatever changes you feel are the right direction for the youth work without causing more hurt to these student leaders.

  • Trust takes time. I would offer them help and let the ask for it when they needed it. I would also praise them for owning and doing the ministry they committed to. Isn't that what we strive for? They will need help and guidance eventually. Just be there with generous amounts of both when they do.

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