Reimagine Your Youth Council
Many churches insist that each of their ministries must have a committee to help make important decisions. Of course, this isn’t a bad idea . . . unless it’s poorly executed. Here are some things I’ve learned after almost three decades of dealing with youth councils.
- Participants see their role as advisory.
- Most decisions will still be made by you, the youth pastor.
- You will still do most of the work.
Time-Honored vs. Effective Approaches
When I arrived at one youth ministry, I inherited a youth council that included officers who had been elected because they were the most popular students in the group. This council consisted of multiple youth and one staff person, but no parents or volunteers were on the team. This model didn’t work. Instead, this toxic, time-honored ministry model just reinforced the garbage our youth had to deal with at school. This was not the kingdom model I wanted them to experience.
I knew there had to be a better way.
From a practical standpoint, we needed
- youth to have a voice in the ministry,
- youth to participate in shaping the ministry,
- youth to lead,
- parents to speak into and participate in ministry planning, and
- participants to have ownership of tasks related to upcoming ministry plans.
We pursued change. The change was centered on the understanding that this group would have power and responsibility. Most committees function to provide feedback as ministry plans/ideas are discussed, which isn’t what we needed.
We desired a group of parents and youth who would work in tandem with the youth staff to plan and implement ministry.
- We changed the name of our committee from Youth Council to Planning and Implementation Team (PIT Crew). Though a name change can seem to be a surface-level shift, it served to reinforce our commitment that as we moved forward, we would allow them to actually participate in making decisions.
- We approached some of our most active senior high youth (not just the popular students) and asked them to serve on the team.
- We recruited active middle school youth to serve on the team—provided that a parent could serve as well.
- We set meeting times for after youth group when they were already present.
- We committed to meet for no more than an hour.
- Prior to the meeting, we gave a general invitation to all senior high students who wished to stay.
- We discussed targeted upcoming ministry needs. This helped avoid the natural diffusion that can take place when too many items are discussed at one time.
- We assigned tasks to small groups. Creating these partnerships helped build natural accountability and support.
As our team moved from being advisors to advocates they enthusiastically communicated, recruited, and resourced the ministry at a level we had not previously experienced.
Challenges for Youth Pastors
There will be some challenges to any youth pastor who pursues these types of changes. Here are a few that come to mind:
- The decision-making process will have to be shared. This may be new for some, but it’s part of equipping disciples for the work of ministry.
- Sometimes the decisions your committee will make won’t be the ones you would make—but often the decisions will be better because of the enthusiasm your team brings to the task.
- Occasionally the decisions/plans fail because others don’t follow through. This can be a valuable lesson for members of your committee, but it requires a real gut check on your part. If your goal is seamless ministry, then do it yourself. If your goal is to equip others for the work of ministry as presented in Ephesians 4:12, then you need to pursue a team-based approach.
- Often you’ll find that others don’t share your confidence in the ability of youth to do ministry. You’ll need to model your trust in your youth and work to educate the adults serving alongside them. As a group, commit to be intentional about creating space for your youth to make decisions, listening to their ideas, and allowing them to lead. It’s helpful to remember that the same Holy Spirit who leads and guides the decisions of the senior pastor is the same Spirit who resides in the heart of a 12-year old believer.
I believe that ultimately the issue of shared leadership is a theological one: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13, emphasis added). Unless we’re courageous (and flexible) enough to pursue equipping others for ministry, we may never experience the fruit of unity and maturity we desire to see in others or in our ministries.
TONY AKERS has been in ministry to youth and families in large and small churches for 25 years. He is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and just entered his 12th year serving as the Minister to Youth and Families at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Tony also serves as a youth ministry coach and writes fairly frequently at WWW.STUDENTMINISTRYSOLUTIONS.COM
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.