How do I train youth leaders to be relational?

Here’s an question that showed up in my Inbox from an unnamed reader of this blog:

I can’t seem to get my leaders fired up about being relational with our students. It’s so frustrating. We have over 150 students in our student ministry and I’m really feeling like I’m getting to the point of burn-out with trying to connect to everyone myself. I see the changes we need to make but I don’t feel like my leaders are ready or willing to make the necessary change. Do you have any suggestions?

What suggestions do you have for this fellow youth worker?

Here’s my response. Please leave yours, as well.

1. Try meeting with each of the leaders one-on-one (or as a couple if they’re married). Talk about their dream for youth ministry. What is their passion in youth ministry? What vision do they have for it? Why are they youth leaders in the first place? Model the relational side with them and create opportunities for them to exercise their giftedness and passion for students. If there is no passion, love or “spark” for students, then they really have no business being a volunteer. Try casting a vision with them for what you want the youth ministry to look like. Make them feel a part of the process. Then, when discussing the strategy and relationships becomes a part of it, they feel like they have ownership over it.

Students and leader hug2. Make sure you say “no” to any unrealistic expectations. Your emotional health is more important than the youth ministry. Besides, if you’re burning out, you won’t do anyone else a bit of good anyway. The best thing you can do for the students is to protect yourself so you can continue working with them for the long haul.

3. Start the leaders off with little steps. First ask them to do something as simple as contact one student a week outside of church. It only takes 5 or 10 minutes, but that simple phone call/e-mail/IM communicates the world to them. After the leaders are comfortable with that, challenge them to contact every student in their small group each week. Later, have each leader attend one student’s extra-curricular game/performance during the semester. Before long, move them on to attending more students events. You get the idea.

Again, if volunteers are resistant to connecting with students, I’d seriously question their reasons for working with the youth group in the first place.

Posted on January 18, 2007

  • First, congrats on your wedding.

    Not to appear too overtly preachy, in my experience, having a proper and godly model of mentorship is important to training leaders. for example – Apostle Paul and Timothy, and as Church history constantly is a testimony of the success of good, godly mentoring of leaders from Origen, Augustine, etc.

    Having a model is important, however, what comes next is how we train those under us in godly values and characters, which discipleship would be important, and personally, the growth of a leader, the key is their walk with God. Helping them to grow maturely in the Lord will give them a gentle nudge on the path of intimacy and in turn, pass that passion and intimacy to those they mentor in future.

    Hope my one-cent comment is helpful. God bless

  • Great Blog Tim! There is a ton of great stuff on here :)

    I agree with the “probably wrong ministry” idea. the younger you are the more “relational” the generation tends to be. being relational is not easy for most adults. they tend to stay focused on their marriages, jobs and kids.

    my 2 cents worth. have the volunteer text message their teens to join them at starbucks for a couple of hours. they basically just sit there drinking coffee and relating.

  • Tim

    Daniel, I agree that modeling a relational approach to ministry is huge. That’s kinda what I was saying under point #1, but you said it a lot better. :) Thanks!

    Heath, having students and leaders hang out one-on-one sometime is a great idea. I think this reader’s problem is getting the leaders to do that in the first place. I’d be interested to talk with these leaders and find out what the real issue is: fear, insecurity, time, motivation, understanding the significance, or what.

  • This is a great question! And I really think it is one of the major factors in a life impacting youth ministry – having leaders who will invest their lives young people. As Heath rightly notes being relational is not easy for adults, its scary, and costly in terms of time, love, money, energy and sometimes tears.

    I’ll throw in a few of my thoughts on this one, and most of my thinking was shaped by the SonLife youth ministry training I had here in Ireland some years ago.
    Really when it comes down to it our leaders need to Youth Ministry as a ‘LIFESTYLE’
    Andy Hickford writes in Essential Youth – “Christianity is better caught than taught. The discipling models that the we are given in scripture appear to suggest that Christian growth and maturity are the results of long-term relational investments. Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Eli and Samuel, Paul and Timothy, and of course, Jesus and the disciples all have these traits. So much so that the Gospel of Mark sums up the disciples initial calling as simply ‘to be with Him’ (Mk3:14). Truth, it seems, is more powerful modelled across a dining table than taught across a classroom.” (p.114)
    The greatest teaching tool we have is our LIVES? With that in mind here are some of the pointers I give my leaders –
    We need to be willing to spend time with our young people. Intentionalise it! If young people only see their leaders on Sunday and we are ‘phantom’ Christians the rest of the week, it is easy for them to conclude that we don’t care about them as persons.
    We need to earn the right to be heard! I’m seeing this more and more with young people here in my ministry context.
    It takes time and effort. We need to encourage co-leaders and key young people to continually be penetrating new circles of friendship.
    It takes a bit of courage and boldness to visit young people’s homes, to go into their schools and the places they hang out. But if we are afraid to go where they are, its easy to see why they would be afraid to some to a church or youth event.
    Be consistent! Be committed for the ‘long haul’.
    Results can be slow. Its is a slow and often discouraging work, but trust is only developed over a period of time.

    This is a great little tool for helping leaders get started on developing relationships beyond the weekly program. I’ve no idea where the 90min plan came from but it works well. We can’t make time but we sure can take time out of our week (just 90mins) could really impact a life.
    Contacting 4 young people consistently each week:
    Write a Note – 10mins
    Visit – 45mins
    Phone – 15mins
    Serve – 20mins (serving could be help with homework or a lift home from school – be creative)

    And some guiding principles for leaders when buildin those bridges with teens:
    Be curious & ask questions
    Practice Hospitality (be generous with your life)
    Laugh Together
    Pray Together

    Hope this is helpful

  • Tim

    Paul, I love the 90-minute breakdown. It’s definitely helpful! I think I’m gonna steal that. ;)

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