Imagine your ministry isn’t going very well. (For some of you, this may not take much effort.) Maybe students are abandoning ship, heading to a flashier program down the street. Maybe youth night has been a train-wreck lately. Maybe kids aren’t inviting friends, no matter what you try.
After assessing the problem, you immediately try to solve it. But what do you change? A knee-jerk reaction is to tinker with the programming—adding more games, better games, different curriculum, more trips, and so on. You might evaluate any staffing gaps or complain about apathetic or too-busy teenagers.
The first instinct is to scrutinize what your ministry offers, because honestly, that’s the easiest fix. Seeking solutions is certainly important… but not the ideal starting point. Neither is it helpful to merely emulate larger, more powerful programs. Though you can glean nuggets of wisdom from other people’s leadership styles, they aren’t you.
Before examining ministry specifics, first explore your personality and how you express it through your leadership style. When you embrace the person—and the leader—Jesus calls you to be, kids will notice your renewed passion. And that will renew theirs, too.
Start by asking these four questions.
1. Am I focused on evangelism or discipleship? The point of ministry, obviously, is Jesus. Some youth workers long to see as many students as possible develop a relationship with Christ. As a result, they love large events, outreach, and anything that attracts more young people. By contrast, youth workers who focus on discipleship want to see students grow closer to Jesus. They assess curriculum, prefer small groups, and often spend one-on-one time with teenagers. Both types of leaders want students to know the Lord, of course, but their ministry approaches are vastly different. To figure out your own style, list all the programming you do. Circle everything you do because you’re passionate about it, and cross out anything you do because you think (or are told) you must. Where do you love to devote your time? What do you learn about yourself from this exercise?
2. Am I an extrovert or an introvert? How do you best recharge? Do you gain energy by being with large groups of people, or do you lose energy and need to restore yourself with a little alone time? Maybe you’re an ambivert, meaning you can act like an extrovert but really cherish alone-time. Embracing your personality is essential for understanding how you approach ministry. Online tests can reveal whether you have mainly extrovert or introvert tendencies.
3. Am I a visionary or an executer? What’s your intensity level regarding ministry? Do you prefer to dream about big plans that can take the world by storm, or would you rather implement another person’s vision? Youth ministers who enjoy viewing the big picture can get bored when bogged down in details. Meanwhile, those who’d rather carry out a plan can feel overwhelmed when asked to gaze too far into the future. Think about your last major ministry project: Did you complete it in a timely fashion or keep making excuses about the delay? Is your proverbial plate filled with things you’d love to do “someday,” or are you always waiting until the next meeting to form a plan? Do details and strategies excite you, or would you rather discuss the next thing that could happen?
4. Am I a communicator or a relater? When you think about this week’s youth group schedule, what excites you the most? Are you ecstatic to take the stage and present a message, or are you thinking about the one or two students you need to follow up with? When you arrive, will you work the room to interact with as many teenagers as possible, or will you seek a deep conversation about one person’s hurts and triumphs? Some youth workers are geared toward communicating with the larger body, while others want to relate and spend intentional time with just a few people at a time.
Answer those four questions and then seek support from people who have strengths in areas where you’re weaker. Your answers will probably fall somewhere on a spectrum, and for some categories, you might be able to play both roles. But if you had to pick just one, who are you at the core? Avoid the trap of pondering who you think you should be.
For example, I’m discipleship-focused. That doesn’t mean I don’t care whether kids get to know Jesus. Rather, my approach is to equip students to talk to their friends about him. That excites me more than inviting the whole high school to a game night. I also like to dream, and while I can follow through on details, frankly they bore me. It took a long time for me to accept that although I care deeply about people and relationships, I really love to tell stories. For years I felt guilty about being a communicator at heart but not a true extrovert. (I thought “good” youth pastors wanted to host epic dodgeball tournaments!)
Knowing who you are as a leader affects all aspects of your programming, which means it also impacts young people. They can smell a fake from a million miles away, starting with your leadership style. But when students sense your authenticity, they’ll be drawn to your ministry—and to Jesus.