Dan Istanvik
November 18th, 2020

I sat on the other side of his desk.   I was new and it was just a few weeks into my new job.  I was excited because it was going to be my first time working in a church with another youth pastor on staff with me. 

I had been attracted to the position because, even though I had been doing youth ministry a while, my new boss had been doing it much longer.  It was an opportunity to learn and be mentored.  I looked forward to doing life together in the trenches with students.

He had sat me down because he wanted to clarify a few things. He leaned back in his chair and then repeated the phrase I would hear often from him,  “We are leaders of leaders.”   He began to explain that at his age, youth ministry was not as much about being with students anymore.  It was about training and leading others to do that.

He further pointed out, that as the numbers grow, we become “the leader up front”. He knew I liked students and was called “to students,” but I had to understand that was no longer my job.

The conversation was almost 11 years ago, but phrase has continued to haunt me.  I think if you are a veteran or a rookie in youth ministry you need to make a conscience choice about who you are and what type of minister you want to be:  “A Leader OF Leaders”  or “A Leader WITH Leaders”.


Understand what I am about to say it not intended to be negative or an attack.  It is simply an encouragement to better understand your calling and yourself.   As you mature and age in ministry, God can use you greatly in training and equipping others.  It is a wonderful and needed thing.  Is it however your primary role, ministry, and calling?  You must ask yourself that question.


  • Do you still feel the same excitement when you are with students one-on-one or in smaller group settings?  Or do you feel more excitement and energy meeting with other adults who are doing that?
  • Do you find yourself reading more books and resources about leading an adult team than leading students?
  • Do others you trust see your giftedness shifting toward training adults rather than teaching young people?
  • Would you prefer to be upfront speaking and leading or sitting with students?
  • Is growing a team of leaders that do the work more energizing than growing a team that can do the work alongside you?

I do not want to make a blanket statement for everyone in all situations, but there is a difference between being a leader of a team of leaders and leading students alongside leaders.  There are outstanding writers, bloggers, professors, trainers, and yes, even those still actively working on staff at a church, that are leaders of leaders.

Is that you or is that where God is leading you?


I struggled a bit in the last nine years of ministry. I will admit it.  I slowly formed and shaped an outstanding team of leaders in my middle school ministry.  I led them, trained them, and built them up. They did the same for me.  No matter how great and exciting it was to lead them, my heart still called me back to being with students.  While the other youth ministry of the church was lead from “Up Front”, I continued to choose to lead “Out Front”.   Even now in a different ministry, a larger ministry, as I build a new team, I still feel my role is not to “do as I say” but “do as I do”.

A “Leader WITH Leaders,” I would define as someone who chooses to continue to be with both leaders and students in the middle of ministry and life.   Once again this not a statement of negative comparison, it is about the discovery of continued calling, longevity, and maturing giftedness.


  • Do you miss being with students during long weeks in the office or is it a relief to have a break from them?
  • Do you ever find yourself disappointed when volunteer leaders are getting to interact with students?
  • Are you more excited about great small group discussion questions then you are about a great upfront talk that is planned?
  • Do you still lead a small group of your own?
  • Are you excited about upcoming events because it means you get to have more time to spend alongside your leaders with students?
  • Do you actively model the same expectations and responsibilities that you have for your team?
  • Do you delegate and hand off up front leadership so that you can be an active participant in ministry?

Is that you? Are you the leader that is leading leaders by leading with them?   As you grow older, if that is you, carry on!  I know great older men and women who are still in the middle of the Dodgeball games, sitting at lunch tables, and continuing to do the dirty work of spiritual discipleship. If you are a leader WITH leaders do not “grow weary in well doing” my friend.

Whichever one you are, you are needed!  If you are a leader of leaders thank you for leading, training and passing on wisdom.  If you are a leader with leaders thank you for your willingness to do life alongside students as well as leaders.   If you are not sure what type of leader you are, spend some time in prayer and with trusted friends, considering your leadership gifts.  Just remember, the kingdom needs both.

Dan Istanvik

Dan Istanvik is the 5th to 8th-grade pastor at Victory Church in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 20 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting he is also the youth ministry content writer for Parent Ministry.Net, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources like Youthworker Journal, Group Magazine, Download Youth Ministry, and more. Additional he shares daily Jr. high/middle school ministry specific resources, and hints on his own blog “The Middle Years” at   WWW.MIDDLEYEARSMINISTRY.COM

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