The following post was written by Robb Hollifield. Robb serves as the senior high student pastor at Cross Creek Church in Fountain, CO. In addition to his role at Cross Creek, Robb serves weekly in a local skateboard ministry called P.R.O.C.E.S.S. in Colorado Springs.
Early in my ministry adventure as a young first year student pastor, I inherited a student ministry that had been around for a couple years. It was a relatively smaller ministry and I had three volunteer leaders across the 6th to 12th grade stretch. As we started to change a bit of the format to make the youth group environment slightly more welcoming for students to invite friends, rapid growth made it clear we needed to recruit more leaders as soon as yesterday!
Ask any youth leader about their first stint serving youth and every single one will tell you about their deer-in-the-headlights experience and how they had no idea what they were doing. Those which I was able to recruit had never had any experience working in any ministry, let alone the high-octane chaotic beauty of youth ministry. As quickly as I knew I needed leaders, I knew these leaders had to be brought up to speed and developed.
COMMUNICATE CLEAR EXPECTATIONS BEFORE LEADERS EVEN START
The first “yes” from a potential youth leader is one they normally have no idea what they are saying “yes” to. Early in ministry, I discovered I needed a process to vet leaders before they ever even got close to youth group—because let’s be honest, not everyone is meant to lead in youth ministry. Having a process by which candidates learn your expectations helps ensure you get the right people on your team.
1 – Have potential leaders fill out an application. The first step in our process was an extensive application that is about eight pages long. Even youth ministries that are hurting for leaders need to have standards. If a potential leader doesn’t have time to fill out an application, they don’t have time to invest in your students.
2 – Interview them. I then held an interview for every single leader that turned in an application. This is a win in two ways: 1) It allows me to get to know a person a bit to see just where they could fit into the ministry AND 2) it’s the perfect opportunity to put clear expectations in front of them. Far before a leader ever hits the floor in your ministry, clear communication of the figurative bar to reach for is a must.
3 – Have them shadow at youth group. If they hear the expectations, and still say “yes,” get them to youth group to start shadowing a seasoned leader to visually and practically see how it’s done.
INVEST WELL AND OFTEN
Once you’ve secured a new leader, how do you keep them around? From a green recruit to seasoned leader, all leaders need to be invested in often and in specific ways. Here are some areas to invest in leaders that will help them thrive in their area of service in your youth ministry.
1 – Practical Training. Set up a leader meeting/training session once a quarter or so to go over expectations again and give practical insight for the dynamics of the ministry. Ask questions in that meeting like “What are we doing well?” and “Where do we need to improve?” Prepare a Word of encouragement designed specifically for them—challenging them from God’s Word on just what it means to lead faithfully. Every week at youth group, give a practical focus for leaders to engage in that night. Find small, creative ways to continue actively training as leaders develop.
2 – Regular Vision Casting. As the student pastor, God is leading YOU in a specific direction in your ministry and it is important to consistently communicate to your leaders what that looks like. Seeing where it has been and hearing the goals for what is next will motivate leaders to join you in this pursuit. Whether it’s in a group message or simply before youth group each week, talk about what the “win” of the night would look like. When leaders have an idea of what a win is, they have something to shoot for.
3 – Give Away Your Leadership. This is one of my favorite parts of being a student pastor. There will be leaders that absolutely crush it every week! They make it to every sports game or activity for students outside youth group and/or they are advocates in recruiting others. When you see cream-of-the-crop leaders, give them more leadership. Does a leader go hard in games? Give that person leadership over game creation or leading. Does a leader naturally encourage everyone around them? Give them a role of being a leader mentor where their area of service includes encouraging leaders on a regular basis. The three leaders I mentioned I had when I first started in ministry are all still in my youth ministry as leaders over huge areas! Figure out the God-given gifts of your leaders and as they develop, give your leadership away.
CHECK IN AND FEEDBACK—THE 90 DAY EVAL
One of the most important things for a student pastor is to check in with leaders and give regular encouragement. No ministry can run without encouragement, especially the emotionally taxing student ministry, but the difficult thing sometimes for a student pastor is to know exactly how to encourage each leader. The “how” can be crucial. And not every leader will voice frustrations openly or give correction or even valuable feedback without someone asking them. As busy seasons rage inside and outside of your ministry, or as your leader group gets larger, it seems the ball gets dropped most in the area of follow up and allowing feedback.
While nothing can replace good ol’ fashion intentional organic follow up, we have developed a way to help. We have navigated stopping the ball drop by issuing something called 90 Day Evals. In this one single piece of paper given out to each leader once every 3 months, a front side allows them to self-evaluate their skills, competency, character/behavior, attitude, loyalty, and dependability while the backside has them fill out their goals met in the past 90 days plus list new goals for the next 90 days. The last question on the sheet has them give any and all feedback on the ministry, myself, their role, etc.
The value in this is at least once every couple of months? Consistent reflection has leaders being honest with themselves in areas they excel and also where they’re missing it. Turning this paper into the student pastor is a huge opportunity for accountability for them as leaders PLUS it is invaluable information allowing encouragement in the exact areas they need to be encouraged. All that, and the feedback given can shape many improvements to implement between honest assessment through leader meetings.
Developing leaders can be a daunting task, but with a clear process and plan in faithfulness in this area, your discipled leaders will disciple your students. Your ministry doesn’t have to look like mine, but hopefully this glimpse into what God is doing over here can help the creative juices start flowing to get to work with your incredibly gifted, God-sent leaders! Good luck and God bless!