Screening Youth Leaders: Practical Steps to Building a Team

Youth Specialties
August 8th, 2016

“I am passionate about teenagers, and I am ready to get involved in youth ministry,” she said.

Although I believed she loved teenagers I was not convinced that she was ready for the job. We scheduled a time to meet, and I handed her the application for ministry.  The actual day came for the interview, and I was looking forward to our chat when I heard her voice. I turned around to see no less than five or six of our high school students surrounding her as she verbally bashed her husband. She continued to loudly rant about his faults and failures. Then, she walked into my office.

Now, before you judge me OR her – ha! – there are a couple of things I would like to say. First, I am so glad I had a system in place that helped me evaluate sponsors and their ability to lead and interact with teenagers. Next, I do not expect my sponsors to be perfect and never make mistakes. But, this had become a pattern for this young woman. I also knew that until she examined her own life, actions and attitudes, the burden placed on the students would be too much.   In my estimation, indeed she was NOT ready for a leadership position in public when her self-leadership in the private domain was so lacking. Our pastor had always told us that public victories follow private victories. In other words, it is important to work on the disciplines, the difficult pieces of our lives when no one can see us before we claim success or leadership roles in the public arena. Without private victories – public victories can be dangerous for all involved.

When we build our teams, we have to have a system in place that helps us carefully select people who will not only guide and lead but will also be siblings to our students – mutually mentoring one another.  Chap Clark, my professor at Fuller, expounds upon this important aspect of ministry in his newest book, Adoptive Youth Ministry.[1] But, how do we purposefully and intentionally go about this task?  

The normal screening process may include the following items.

  1. An application for ministry which includes references, a background check, and the testimony of the applicant.
  2. An interview with the candidate replete with questions about their confidentiality, dependability, and the ability to trust God with things they don’t understand.
  3. A conversation that is bathed in truth, honesty, and love, while covered in prayer which lays out the vision and mission of the youth ministry and the church.
  4. An invitation to observe and/or participate in the youth group setting.
  5. A follow-up conversation.

First, there are many places that you could download an application for ministry. Here’s an example, and feel free to visit ministryarchitects.com to find more free forms and ideas.

Next, as far as the interview is concerned, it is really important to understand “why” a person wants to join you. Are they more concerned about themselves or the students? As you speak with them, ask if they are able to handle the complexities of the burdens these students entrust to them by taking them to God in prayer without spilling their guts to their spouses and/or children. It is really important for them to understand the importance of confidentiality as well as the mandatory reporting that must happen if someone is hurting themselves, someone else or is being hurt by someone. All of this must be covered. Some people have a hard time carrying the burdens without unloading on someone else. And, when you are working with teenagers – they will know if they are safe or not. If they sense that people are talking about them to others, without their authorization or consent – they will shut down and so will the rest of your group.

In this area of confidentiality parents who work in the youth group can be your best friends or worst enemies.  Pay attention to the children of these parents. You will usually find out if the students and parents talk about others if you are together for any length of time. Discussing other peoples’ children with others is just never an option. Either God is big enough to handle our burdens, or he isn’t. Again, if there are safety issues involved the leader of the group must be told everything, and the leader or youth pastor is a mandated reporter. They must report to CPS or some affiliated group.

When sharing the mission and vision of the church and youth group with prospective youth sponsors and leaders it is invaluable to clearly articulate WHY the church or youth group exists. What is your theology of ministry? What is your philosophy? If you are interested in thinking more strategically in this area Mark DeVries gives a great way to begin in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry. He explains the systems approach where every step is laid out and thought through. When thinking through the actual theological implications of ministry and the philosophical underpinnings – Chap’s Adoptive Youth Ministry and Youth Ministry in the 21st Century: Five Views along with Kenda Dean’s Starting Right help tremendously.

Another way to determine potential leaders would be the ever significant people-watching. Many times I would people-watch in the café area of our church. When no one else was paying attention to actions, affection, and words – I was. I would seek out those who were introverted, extroverted, color-blind, comfortable in big settings, comfortable in smaller settings, equal opportunity investors, and I would pray and dream.

“O God, would this person be a great part of this team? Is this person teachable? Has this person experienced private victories? Is your Spirit recognizable within his/her heart? Does his/her family have respect for him/her? Does this person have a deep desire to know you O God? Is there evidence of a life of prayer and humility? And, is there a love for your Word that is practiced in Scripture reading and study? O God, lead me. Give me wisdom. May I discern your will in this area.  Amen.”

Finally, when the candidate for youth ministry observes and or participates in the area that you are recruiting them to be a part – prepare them for what they might experience. As you explain what is about to happen, leave God-room for an authentic invitation from the Holy Spirit. Many times I have watched as unsuspecting people have responded to my follow-up with tears of joy saying, “Yes, I’m in!” And, then there are those who seem overwhelmed by the experience, and you are aware that this is just not the right time or place for their service. And, that is o.k. There are stages and unique passions in every life to which we need to be attentive.

Do you want to know the end to the story?

The young woman sought counsel, worked on a few private victories, and guess who joined us a couple years later? Longevity is an amazing thing as a youth pastor – but that is a blog for another time.


(Yep, it’s just who I am.)

[1] Chap Clark, ed., Adoptive Youth Ministry: Integrating Emerging Generations Into the Family of Faith (Youth, Family, and Culture) (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 1-21.

Teresa Beth Garner 3Teresa Garner. Passionate Lover of God and people, wearing many hats: Professor, Ordained Pastor, Wife of an Ordained Pastor, Speaker, Teacher, Preacher, Mother, Grandmother, Mentor, Reader, Writer, Musician. . .

Twitter: @profGarner
Instagram: @profgarner
E-mail: tbgarner@olivet.edu

Youth Specialties

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