You can’t do youth ministry alone. Youth pastors and ministry leaders often forget this. We can all too easily fall into the temptation of making our youth ministry a “one-man show.” We know our capabilities, we know our goals, and we know our methods. It just seems so much easier to take care of it ourselves. Sure, we want leaders in the room, but do we want them to lead? On the other hand, we could fall into the other extreme of placing too much on leaders and causing burnout. The once energetic and passionate youth leader becomes a silent, directionless facilitator.

So how do we lead our leaders? How do we manage the tension between over-involvement and under-involvement? Your leaders are people too, not robots who work nonstop or cardboard cutouts that do nothing. Leaders can have such a beautiful and lasting impact on the youth ministry, but the foundation for their influence is created and directed by you.

Here Are 5 Principles for Leading, Loving, and Equipping Your Leaders:

  1. Your Leaders Are Volunteers (1 Peter 5:3)

In most cases, your volunteers are not paid staff members and have not always dreamed of working in a youth group. They are not obligated or required to serve in and lead a youth group. Your leaders are there because they want to be, not because they have to be.

Be careful not to place the same expectations on them as if they are another staff employee. Your volunteers have work, family, and ministry responsibilities. Don’t overload them with attending meetings, participating in activities, teaching lessons, or preparing meals. Certainly, your leaders should be willing, committed, and involved. A youth leader that is never present or participating has very little positive impact. But avoid placing the same expectations on your leaders that are placed on a youth pastor. These leaders are sacrificing their time, energy, and resources to serve the next generation, not to do your dirty work or fulfill the expectations of your position. Leaders are in youth groups to be servants, not slaves.

  1. Your Leaders Must Know the Vision (Matthew 28:19-20)

Can our leaders explain the purpose for our youth group? Do they know how the youth group works with the church rather than being a separate entity? Sadly, the answer from many youth leaders is no. And we can’t blame them! As the youth pastor, we hold the responsibility of both casting a vision and helping our leaders and students catch it. But in the hustle of life, the vision can get blurred and create monotonous ministry roles rather than exciting opportunities for discipleship.

I believe Jesus portrays this perfectly with the Great Commission. He leaves His disciples not directionless but with a common goal, method, and purpose. We must ensure our leaders both know, understand, and agree with the vision and purpose of our youth group.  When the vision is clear, we see leaders become passionate allies that are working toward a common goal of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.

  1. Your Leaders Need Encouragement (Proverbs 12:25)

Ministry is hard. Life is hard. Doing both together can seem nearly impossible. After the long day of work, your leaders now must go serve, talk with rowdy teenagers, and participate in a game that involves drinking soda through a sock. Even the most passionate can become burnt out over time.

Therefore, find ways to encourage your leaders and let them know you care. Don’t see them as tools but as people who have burdens, struggles, prayer requests, and praises. Talk with them outside of church, invite them to dinner, text them regularly to ask for prayer requests, celebrate their birthdays. One of the simplest yet most supportive things we can do is just say “Great job tonight! You are making an impact on the teens.” Sometimes we as pastors categorize ministry as a thankless job, but when was the last time we genuinely stopped and thanked our volunteers?

Through intentional encouragement, leaders are not only uplifted but also motivated to encourage others, especially the teens that they’re ministering to. Positivity truly is contagious.

  1. Your Leaders Have Talents (1 Peter 4:10-11)

As Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10-11, all believers have been blessed with a spiritual gift for the purpose of glorifying God and uplifting the body of Christ. This includes your leaders! Each one is gifted differently. Your responsibility is to identify their gifts/talents and find a role that fits their expertise. Not everyone should be teachers, and not everyone should be cooks. Certainly, this does not remove opportunities for training and learning something new. But you are to utilize your leaders in a way that brings them joy and highlights their gifting. The biggest impacts are often made when a leader is committed to owning their role for God’s glory, for the collective vision of the church, and for the betterment of the youth group.

  1. Your Leaders Need a Leader (2 Timothy 2:2)

All too often, leaders show up to youth group, stand in the back, quietly monitor teens, and then leave right after the “Amen.” The leaders don’t interact with the kids or participate in the activities. They really are just cardboard cutouts. This common youth ministry phenomenon leaves students without leaders, leaders without purpose, and youth pastors with frustration.

But we can’t blame the volunteers if they have never been instructed to do anything different. You want them to disciple? Then teach them how. You want them to build relationships with the teens? Give them opportunities to do so. We can’t complain that ministry isn’t happening when we have never coached them on how to minister.

Everything rises and falls on leadership. You truly set the tone and direction for the youth group. They are following the precedents you set…no pressure, right?

But here’s the main point: your leaders are people, just like you and your students. And we as humans fail and come up short. But praise the Lord our youth ministry does not have to rely on our perfecting leading but on the Lord’s divine grace!

Heed Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1 – “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”

Paul was not perfect, and, although I hate to break it to you, neither are you. But our great God is perfect in all He does, including leadership. When we follow His lead and lead our leaders in the same direction, we will see spiritual growth in ourselves and in our volunteers. Amazingly, that same growth will trickle into our students as well. But we must be intentional to obey the Lord as we lead and train others. Truly, following the greatest Leader sets our paths straight.