What it takes mentally
Welcome back to our series on what it takes to be a youth leader. It is important to remember that a person doesn’t have to already have everyone of these characteristics, but that where one is lacking, there will need to be other people or measures to make up for the lack. We’ve already covered spiritual qualities, like a commitment to God’s will, teachability, and prayerfulness, as well as a love for others and vision for the future. Take a moment to reads parts one, two, and three if you haven’t already.
Let’s talk about some of the mental qualifications needed to be an effective youth leader. The first is above-average intelligence. This might be the most debatable one that we list in this entire series. There is certainly an argument for the person who is godly and loves students, but isn’t the “sharpest tool in the shed.” There is a vital need, however, for a person to be able to answer questions of the faith and “skeptical” objections that students face in the eyes of secular classrooms and a culture that is progressively antagonistic toward the Bible. There is a certain level of intellect that should exist on a youth ministry team, and if one individual does not have it, there should be another on that team that does.
Another issue is that of clearly-defined goals. Typically, these are defined by the ministry leader (youth pastor, etc.). There is a great benefit, however, to youth ministries when a leader not only displays this quality in his or her own life but also works at mentoring teens to develop this trait as well. These folks are also valuable at helping establish biblical goals for the ministry team as they help bring intentionality to the efforts of the ministry.
The next is a positive attitude. Apathy and disapproval are very contagious. Having someone with a positive attitude can be very encouraging to the youth pastor, and will overflow to the youth. Even when things seem to be going poorly, this person can inject a lot of great energy and perspective when it is needed.
Our fourth is proper motivation. We have all seen people who are in relationships and positions because they need what these opportunities give them. Maybe they seek acceptance or social connections. Perhaps a person needs to be needed or needs to have their ego stroked. None of these are proper motivation, and neither are salary or “perks” of the ministry. It is imperative to the ministry, the youth themselves, and to the worker, that their motivation is the glory of God and the furtherance of the gospel. If these aren’t the central focus, there will be increased issues with leaders needing students’ acceptance and interaction, burnout in leaders (those false motives will ultimately not feel “worth it), and frustration on the part of the students and youth pastor due to leaders not fulfilling their role of lightening the load of the Youth Pastor and pointing students to Jesus.
Another mental trait that youth leaders need to have is loyalty. Josh McDowell famously said that a youth leader stepping out of a teenager’s life can be as devastating as a parental divorce. There needs to be a loyalty to the ministry, to the youth pastor, and to the teens (loyalty to God is a given at this point). There are even strategies of ministry that have a small group leader getting a group of teens when they enter the ministry in the 6th grade and continuing to serve as their leader through 12th grade. This is one answer to what Author Doug Fields calls “Discontinuity in Leadership.” Some think this discontinuity is one of the primary contributing factors to teens leaving the church during and just after high school. Loyalty is a HUGE topic in the world of adolescents.
This last one is so crucial that I’m going to include it a second time. Youth leaders, perhaps more than most other ministry positions, must be teachable. There are so many facets to relationships with teens and their parents and teachers, and friends. There are also so many different areas of the program, anything from engaging youth culture in an informed and biblical manner to knowing how many pizzas to order for an outing. When should I counsel a teen and when should I refer to a professional? When is “Please don’t tell my parents!” a reasonable request and when does that line need to be crossed? How do I know if this girl’s cry for attention has actually turned to destructive emotion and behavior (an ever shifting issue based upon individuals and varying circumstances)? Youth leaders must recognize that they don’t know everything and they are not going to be good at everything, therefore a willingness to improve and sharpen their skills is non-negotiable.