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Youth Leader or Congregational Leader

By Andy Sahl There are many areas of our leadership as youth and children’s ministers where we have a LOT of freedom.  In many congregations, the youth and children’s ministries are allowed to experiment and fail in a way that other ministries are not.  Experimenting and dreaming up new ideas for our little silos can be fun.  But the world
by Faith+Lead | February 28, 2013

By Andy Sahl

There are many areas of our leadership as youth and children’s ministers where we have a LOT of freedom.  In many congregations, the youth and children’s ministries are allowed to experiment and fail in a way that other ministries are not. 

Experimenting and dreaming up new ideas for our little silos can be fun.  But the world of youth and children’s ministry has changed over the years we’ve come to understand that most effective youth and children’s ministries come from churches where the entire congregation pays attention and is engaged in ministry with younger generations in some form or fashion.  When the paid children’s minister or youth minister begins to lead beyond their demographic, the leadership landscape can have many more potholes.  

A good example of this includes a youth leader (and hopefully members of a leadership team) want to begin or evolve to a new type of worship experience that is more accessible for a younger demographic.  All of a sudden a youth worker skilled in leading mission trips and camp songs is engaged in leadership conversations with invested musicians, worship committees, pastors, and various constituencies within the church.  This is GOOD, but different. 

Here are some thoughts to consider when your leadership enters these new landscapes.

1.     Understand your own circle of concern and circle of influence, and help others understand it as well.  When youth and children’s ministries embraced a silo approach, the circle of concern was much smaller.  Focusing on your own age group and the programs designed for them was fine.  We now understand our ministry as much more.  Our circle of concern and influence should include every experience they have at church (and some at home).  Not everyone in your church will understand this, communicate why this is true regularly. 

2.     Invest in relationships with the entire staff and congregation.  Take the choir director to lunch.  Drop in to the quilting guild and introduce yourself, offer to be helpful (or join them occasionally if you’re a quilter).  If you’re going to be a leader of the entire congregation, you’re going to have to know them beyond the generalities you pain in your own mind. 

3.     Pay attention to timing.  If you just had to cancel a retreat because of low signups, it’s probably not the best time to begin making suggestions to the worship committee.  Get a few wins in your own area (and publicize them well), and you will have a newfound credibility with the congregation.

4.     Wear big boy/big girls pants once in a while.  Often children and youth ministers dress or act in a way that makes us accessible to young people (or at least able to throw a dodge ball at a high velocity).  Sometimes this level of leadership will require us to be accessible and respectable to a whole new demographic.  Sometimes that means ironing our shirt, being on time to a meeting, and responding to email on time (but please don’t stop being the lovable, gifted, connector to kids that you are!!)

5.     Earn the Senior Pastors Trust.  Senior Pastors have enough on their plate.  Make sure she/he understands what you’re up to and why.  If your first conversation on the topic isn’t well received, be patient.  Many times it takes people a while to process the ideas of others and understand where you are coming from.  Let your senior pastor know you have their back and you’re under their leadership. 

While some of this may sound a bit intimidating, know that you also can be intimidating to the congregation.  You’re connecting with young people, you’re smart, and have insights that others don’t.  The church needs you to lead on this level. 

Join the conversation on Facebook.com/FirstThird!

Andy Sahl is the Director of Youth Ministry at Saint Michael and All Angles Episcopal Church in Dallas Texas and has been serving in youth ministry for 15 years.  Andy is passionate about developing authentic community and families through the ministries he helps lead.  You can often find Andy out for a run with his dog Charles, sharing a cup of coffee with a friend at a local café, or at a favorite restaurant with his family. You can follow him on Twitter @andysahl

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