One of the regular readers of my website, Life in Student Ministry, recently submitted this question: “How do you handle discipline? I’ll give you some context to that question. I’m 25. I have worked in three churches. My biggest challenge is—how do I handle discipline? I look younger than 25 and even then I am still young, so how do I maintain authority when sometimes I still might look like a peer?”
Good question. I also thought about this several years ago when I held my first youth pastor position at the age of 19 years-old. A couple points come to mind:
1. Establish yourself as the leader from the very beginning. Although you are close to their age, you’re first their leader before you’re their friend. Just having the title of “youth pastor” and the backing of the church leadership sets you apart, so don’t be afraid to use it.
2. Don’t be afraid to discipline. Studies have shown that parents who discipline are shown more respect and love from their teens because discipline proves to the kids that their parents love them. You’re the leader of the group, so you set the tone and standards for what happens. Enforce it.
3. Be consistent. If you say there are certain consequences for an offense, follow through with it. Although it’s hard the first couple times, you earn their respect and they learn to trust your word when you say something.
4. Don’t be timid because you’re young. Pretty much the same as #2. Be assertive, take charge, and do whatever is necessary to manage the group. Again, you’re the leader. If they don’t respect your authority, the group may become chaotic and ministry effectiveness will dwindle.
Basically, it comes down being tough and setting yourself as the leader. Hopefully you can do this by earning their trust and respect, but if not, you may have to enforce it in other ways whether they like it or not. It’s part of your job, ya know?
5. Setting some guidelines and boundaries officially on paper is a good idea, too. Just make sure everything you state is enforceable and that you follow-up on it appropriately when violations occur. Otherwise it’ll loose credibility and be pointless. When/if you write up something, make sure you state everything in a positive sense, as if each point is for the benefit of the ministry and those involved. You don’t want just some big list of negative do’s and don’ts. That feels very restricting to the participants.