Equipping Young Adult Leaders

Youth Specialties
December 7th, 2015

A friend of mine in her mid-twenties recently “failed” at her job. After months of feeling overwhelmed and overstretched, she realized she needed to move on. It was the best decision for her and for her organization, but at the time it just sucked.

As we were talking about it, she said to me, “Heather, why didn’t anyone step in when I was failing months ago? Why didn’t anyone protect me?”

My heart broke.

She added, “Why did anyone think I could accomplish that scope of responsibility at my age? I’m just trying to figure out how to be an adult right now—there’s no way I was going to succeed at that.

The more I talk to young adult friends of mine in ministry, the more I realize that these same sentiments are felt across the board. On one hand, young leaders are begging to be recognized and given a chance to prove themselves. But on the other hand, churches (and organizations in general) are giving really big jobs to young people who are still trying to figure out how to separate their clothes when they wash them.

I’m fortunate to have quite a few young adults on my middle school ministry team for the first time, and I’m learning a lot this year about the way they operate and what realistically to expect from them. If I’ve learned anything from ministering to middle schoolers, it’s that the best thing I can do is affirm a student at the stage of life they’re in. Instead of pushing them into maturity before they’re ready, I should give them opportunities to thrive and discover their gifts.

I think the same principle applies to young adults, so I have a few suggestions for organizations and ministries that are wanting to utilize young people and empower them to be leaders while also making room for them in their life stage.

  1. Be realistic with job scope. If you’re hiring a young person for a position that was previously filled by someone else (especially by someone older), than reassess expectations altogether. This young person may not be able to handle the fullness of the job responsibilities held by their predecessor.
  2. Don’t underestimate them, either. There are new gifts and talents a young person will bring to the table. The best thing a seasoned leader can do is to help a young person discover their gifts. This is a principle we understand for youth ministry, but it crosses over to discipling young adult leaders.
  3. Provide outside sources of mentorship. In order to help a young person find their niche in their field, it’s wise to pair them up with an unbiased mentor to help them discover what that might look like. Of course, if you’re directly supervising them, then you’re already doing this inside the workplace.
  4. Speak up for them. Young people are often anxious and afraid to speak up for fear they’ll be looked upon as failures. They need advocates: people who can recognize when they’re no longer in their element and need some interference.
  5. Affirm them. People can never receive enough affirmation, and my belief is that a lot of young adults find their identity and safety through job performance. Encouragement can drown out a tough day.

What are some other ways you can empower young adult leaders in your church?

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heatherlea_squareHEATHER is a Junior High Director in Indianapolis, working with a talented and diverse team of staff and volunteers. Heather has the privilege of writing on various youth ministry platforms across the interwebs, but you can find her blogging about her life in ministry over at HEATHERLEACAMPBELL.ME.


Youth Specialties

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.