On our Alaskan cruise last month, we went to get family portraits done in the ship’s photography studio. The 30-minute shoot went very quickly, and at its conclusion we booked an appointment to go back later in the week to look at the pictures (and perhaps buy some).
We decided that 4 of us would go: Gail, my brother Jason, my mom Joyce, and me. We felt that this particular combination of people would give us the best chance of making a good decision without paying too much.
We all had our particular roles too.
I was the “Schmoozer” (surprise surprise) and my job was to break the ice and create a comfortable atmosphere before we talked big bucks.
My brother Jason was our “Quality Control Expert” as he by far has the most expertise with respect to photography and editing.
My lovely wife Gail was the “Negotiator/Closer”. She knows how to drive a hard bargain and is not afraid to be tough if she needs to.
Lastly, my mom Joyce was the “Benefactor/Banker”. The buck stopped with her as she was the one ultimately paying for the pictures.
We decided on these roles to take advantage of our respective strengths. For example, Gail had no interest in making small talk with the photographer; she left that to me and my gift of gab. And I didn’t dare try to bargain as I am a complete push-over. In fact, the other three kicked me out of the room when it was time to move closer towards a purchasing decision. We worked well as a team and ended up happy with the pictures we purchased.
When it comes to youth ministry leadership, it’s extremely crucial that you know your role and understand how your own strengths and weaknesses as an individual help contribute to the bigger picture.
Here are 4 important things to keep in mind with respect to knowing your role in youth ministry:
1. Know what you’re good at
At 40 years old (and 21 years in youth ministry), I have a pretty good sense of what I’m good at. I enjoy speaking, facilitating, and teaching. I have good relational ministry skills and strong communication skills. When I’m able to combine these skills effectively, I feel confident in my ministry. Thus, I’m always looking for opportunities to utilize these skills both at the archdiocesan and parish levels.
Likewise, you may have certain gifts and talents that make you a better youth ministry leader. It’s important that you continue to hone your craft and sharpen your skills. I would encourage you to try and become an “expert” or at least a resource in one or two areas of ministry. It will help you with your confidence and inspire others around you to do the same.
2. Know what you’re not good at
By contrast, I have a long list of things that I’m not good at. Dancing. Art. Memorizing scripture. Dressing nicely. Cooking. In youth ministry, I don’t think it’s worth wasting time working on your weaknesses. I am convinced it’s more important to develop and refine your strengths and then lead from them. Thus, you’ll never see me trying to choreograph a dance routine or offer to bake snacks for the next youth gathering.
It’s important to acknowledge your deficiencies, especially within the confines of a leadership team. But that’s the beauty of having a team of people – if you’re not good at something chances are someone else on the team is! Now I’m not saying that you should never strive to improve or that you shouldn’t learn new skills. But there is a time and place to do these things and you’ll need to exercise good judgement in picking your spots.
3. It’s not about you
I learned this the hard way early on in my youth ministry career. Back when I first started, I wanted to be “The Man”. I wanted to be in every skit, deliver every talk, lead every prayer, and coordinate every ice-breaker. I don’t think it was a lack of trust in my fellow leaders; rather it was my ego running rampant in my attempt to be the best youth ministry leader I could be.
I found that I was starting to push other leaders away with my self-centered approach. Thankfully, I was able to change my ways as I matured. We must remember that our primary goal in youth ministry is to lead young people closer to Christ, and not to ourselves. We are to always be looking for opportunities to help young people encounter Jesus. We need to be a conduit – not an obstacle – to making that happen.
4. Be genuine
It’s my favourite youth ministry mantra: young people won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. In our work with young people, we must earn the right to be heard. When possible, we need to build genuine relationships with young people before we attempt to evangelize or catechize them.
A big part of this is being genuine with young people. That means being honest with our strengths and weaknesses and admitting when we don’t know the answer to a question or if we’re unsure about something. Teens are very smart and extremely perceptive – they’ll know if we’re faking it. So it’s important that you don’t strive to be the most popular leader or pretend to be something that you’re not. Be humble and trusting enough to depend on other members of your team.
So forget your ego, your popularity, and your weaknesses. Be a genuine witness of Christ’s love and mercy and do everything you can to help young people experience this love.
That’s our role as youth ministry leaders.