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Ten Commandments for Youth Leaders

1. You will love young people and really want to work with them. Above everything else, the most important characteristic of a youth leader is a love of this age group. Leaders need to be willing to take the time to know young people individually. They need to truly care about young people. Some people become youth leaders for the wrong reasons: they are motivated by guilt or obligation to the church, they can't say no, or they have a desire to evangelize young people but no real willingness to know them.

A person who loves young people is a good listener. Young people have a lot to say, and they respond to adults who listen without criticizing, correcting, or making moral judgments. They are drawn to adults who are open and who genuinely will share themselves.

Ask yourself: Do I really like this age group? Could I love these young people? Do I want to commit myself to becoming a part of their lives?

2. You will be committed to the youth ministries program of your congregation. We need responsible adults who will follow through with all that is involved in being a leader: planning, leading, attending leadership meetings, being trained, studying, finding resources. When I recruit, I would rather a person turn me down, because of an honest assessment of personal time limitations, than say yes and not be able to follow through.

When we recruit, we don't make the job sound easy. Instead of begging for leaders, we issue a call which lets people know that we are serious about youth ministries. When you receive a call, you know that your congregation perceives you to have special gifts and abilities with this age group. It is a calling worthy of your time, efforts, and commitment.

3. You will be willing to grow in your faith and be a role model for young people. One of the exciting parts of being a youth leader is that you will grow in faith, through your own study and preparation, through learning from young people, and through giving and sharing yourself with them.

Like it or not, you will be a role model. But this does not mean you have to be some sort of "super Christian." Rather, we are looking for people who are committed to Jesus Christ, who are struggling and growing in faith, and who seek to do a good deal of that growing within the community of faith, the church. As an active, responsible member of your congregation, you are an excellent role model for young people.

4. You will be a planner with a purpose. An effective youth ministry must have a definite purpose. The key to making it work is planning. First, work with the staff, the clergy, your youth ministries committee or commission, or all of these, to discover the goals and policies affecting youth ministries. Spend time discussing: (1) what we want for our young people; (2) areas in which they need growth; and (3) ways we can increase their involvement in the life of the congregation.

Leaders need to work together on planning. Plan a year of activities that provide a balanced program. Keep one calendar for activities and another calendar for preparatory details, such as when to make phone calls.  Leaders need to meet periodically to evaluate, make changes, and check on details.

5. You will take young people seriously. Involve young people in the planning and carrying out of their activities. Adults should not run a program with no input from young people. Young people are more likely to be active if they have some responsibility for their own activities. Individual young people vary in the amount of responsibility they can carry, but all can take part in some way.

By opening paths for young people to participate in the life of their congregation, we show that we respect them and believe in their capabilities. They respond positively when treated responsibly. If we treat them like children, we risk stunting their growth in faith.

6. You will be confident in leadership. Once plans for the year are made, leaders need to be confident in carrying them out. Leaders often get cold feet. They fear young people won't like a Bible study or service project, so they back down from good programming and grasp for what they hope will be more attractive to young people. They fall into the "entertainment trap."

We cannot, nor should we try to, compete with the entertainment out there in the teenage world. Since we have a high calling, we need to proceed confidently. Young people are not turned off by the church, especially when they see their leaders excited by the church's ministry. (Remember our role-model image.) Your enthusiasm for the youth program makes all the difference in the world. They will catch it.

7. You will use a variety of methods and activities. Try new methods. Avoid lecture and overuse of discussion. Split into arbitrary small groups as often as possible. This is an excellent way to deal with the problem of cliques. It is hard for kids to reach out to other kids. Breaking up into small groups is one way to facilitate this. This method is helpful for building community within a group. It also provides for movement and variety within a program, which keeps kids from wandering off, being left out, or losing interest.

8. You will define expectations with young people. Consider a covenant. Discipline has unfortunately become the number one concern of leaders. It shouldn't be. Three hints: (1) If you have a well-planned, youth-oriented program, discipline problems should be minimal. (2) The way you start the year sets the tone for the kind of behavior that will be tolerated. A retreat full of unstructured free time is not a good beginning. (3) The best way to prevent problems is to draw up a covenant early in the year. This covenant would be designed by both the young people and the adult leaders. It should reflect the expectations young people have of adults as well as those adults have of young people. The covenant could be posted on a sheet of poster board and signed by everyone, young people and adult leaders alike.

9. You will give individual attention when problems come up. Even with a covenant you'll probably still have one person who is disruptive. These young people are trying to get attention, and attention is what they need. Talk with them personally and lovingly about behavior and expectations. The worst method is to single them out and deal with the problem in front of the whole group. Being neither parent nor teacher, you have an opportunity for a unique relationship as mentor, role model, guide.

There is debate over whether or not to call parents regarding disruptive behavior. Always try to work it out with the young person first. In that way you show respect for the individual as a responsible person. And please don't ever kick a young person out of a youth group.

10. You will seek help. You have a responsibility to get the help and resources you need. Many congregations recruit leaders and then leave them to fend for themselves. To prevent a year of frustration and burnout, you need to take it upon yourself to ask your congregation's staff or lay coordinators for help. Don't wait for someone to call you. Get the help you need.


Adapted from an article by Ginny Ward Hold­erness. Holderness is the author of several books on youth ministries, including The Exuberant Years and Youth Ministry: The New Team Approach.

© 1996 The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society PECUSAThis article is from Handbook for Ministries with Older Adolescents, a publication of the Ministries with Young People Cluster of the Episcopal Church Center,  New York, NY. Permission is granted for congregational use and use by diocesan youth coordinators. You may order this resource from Episcopal Parish Services.



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