As youth leaders, there is one feeling that hopefully everyone can relate to. When you spend a bunch of time and resources to finally get that one person to go to a camp or conference and they come back to the parish fired up and wanting to do more. You have hand-picked this person because they are a natural leader and you know that if you just get them, there will be a dozen other youth who follow.
Here is one way that you can screw this up…
Give Them The Plan.
I was talking with a youth leader today in this scenario. She is an incredible youth leader and I am confident God will do great things through her in the first few years of her ministry. She has two youth that are fired up and ready to live out the call that they received at a summer camp to GO! While she is not totally sure what they should be doing, she expressed to me such a deep understanding of what her role is, she said something to the effect of “they are the ones with the call to do something, I do not want to inhibit that with my own plans.”
Here are five things you should do when you are in this scenario
Instead of getting so excited that you now can have that leader that will lead their peers, be sure to teach them first. They have received a gift from God (the call to serve and do more), now you must teach them to discern how to use that gift. Help them to understand what is going on first and then they will be able to more confidently do it.
2. Ask the Right Questions
This is actually very simple. Start by asking them questions like “What do you feel you are called to do?” or “What do you think we need most in the parish for the youth right now?” or “Why do you think God is calling you to do this?” In short, we want them to always know that there is a plan. These questions help them learn to discern that plan and it will give so much more meaning to what they are doing.
3. Know their Gifts
“But the guy at camp told me that I should go home and start a youth group” they might say. Ask and learn what their gifts are. Maybe they are supposed to start a youth group but maybe they need an adult to lead it. Maybe they can be involved in other ways as a leader (by example if needed).
4. Leave Room for Failure
I know what it’s like to immediately put these youth on a pedestal and assume a full conversion has happened in their lives. Sherry Weddell in her book “Forming Intentional Disciples” talks about five thresholds of conversion. These are five areas of conversion that must happen before one can become an intentional Disciple. We MUST give the youth more space to grow and learn.
5. Have Options
Be ready to have a few options for them to consider (leading a prayer group or other ministry, helping plan youth nights, visiting the sick, general office help, etc.) and then be prepared to be flexible and allow them to choose one of those opportunities but in a way that better uses their gifts.
I have no doubt that when you do these things, these youth will be able to much more freely give themselves to the parish that they return home to. They will be doing what they were created to do and what they feel God has called them to do. This will set them up to be leaders in the faith not just now but for the rest of their lives.
What other ways can we help those youth grow to be mature intentional Disciples after they experience their initial conversion?