Confessions of an Unqualified Youth Leader

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If you had told me a few months ago that I’d be leading the high school and junior high youth groups at my church, I’d say you were crazy.

Working with kids is something I’ve always told myself I wasn’t cut out for. I’m not patient, I’m not great with following up on things, and I can be a pretty awkward person.

Can you guess how this story ends though? Now I lead youth group every Wednesday night for both high school and junior high, and I prepare Sunday morning lessons with high school students.

God can use anyone to build his kingdom—even if we think we’re terrible candidates for the job. God knows where he wants to use us, we just have to accept the call (Jeremiah 1:6-9).

laurenquote1aAbout three months ago, I prayed for an open mind and a heart to accept new challenges and opportunities. A week or two later, someone at church approached me to take on the youth director role for the current school year while we search for someone to fill the gap. So, with a newly open mind and heart, I said yes!

Youth ministry is fueled by volunteers. But like me, a lot of people don’t think they’re right for the job. What you may not know though, is that there are lots of ways to get involved, make a difference, and contribute to your church’s youth ministry.

Here are a few ways you can get involved:

1. Bring snacks

Just the other week, an elderly woman from my church asked me to put her down to bake treats for the youth group once a month. That may seem like a small contribution, but that’s one week every month now that I don’t have to think about treats for our events. It alleviates the budget once a month to contribute to other needs, and it allows Mrs. Polinder a way to be involved in our youth ministry. Whether you make the treats yourself, or buy snacks at the bakery or grocery store on your way home, your thoughtfulness and generosity in bringing snacks will be greatly appreciated.

2. Get prizes

Occasionally at youth group events we’ll host a little competition: Minute to Win It, Bible trivia, bowling, you name it! If I showed up to host one of these competitions without some prizes, there would definitely be some screaming and gnashing of teeth. Prizes—even silly ones—make a big difference in how invested kids are in these competitions. Think about it—do you have access to goods or services that kids in your church would be interested in? Old gift cards? CDs? Candy? Movie tickets? Anything at all? Consider making a donation to the youth ministry at your church!

3. Host meals

At my church, one of our youth group traditions is having CRASH nights. CRASH stands for “Come Relax At Someone’s House.” About once or twice each school year, a family in our church offers to have the high school kids over to their home for a night of food and fun. The ones that stick out to me are the times that we get the whole group, including the hosts, playing a game together. The community that comes from nights like these is truly a blessing. Hosting a night like this is only a one-time commitment, and at the end of the night you’ll even have some new friends!

4. Mentor leaders

Maybe mentoring students is too overwhelming . . . but have you thought about mentoring the youth leaders? Many youth leaders don’t have teenagers of their own, so having the perspective of someone who does is a welcome resource. Youth leaders pour their lives into the kids they work with, which is exhausting if no one is pouring into them. Even a meeting once a month to talk about how things are going with the ministry or work-life balance or new activity ideas is a great way to invest in the kids. You’re investing in the people who invest in them.

5. Encourage leaders

When I show up to church on Sunday morning and find a nice, handwritten note in my mailbox it fires me up for the week. Knowing that someone has noticed and appreciates the work I’ve put in means the world to me. Writing a short note of encouragement to someone doesn’t take more than five or ten minutes out of your day, but will have a lasting effect on the person who receives it—and the people they work with. Some churches have teams designated to make sure people are being recognized and appreciated, but anyone can be an encouragement to others. Try choosing someone different to encourage every week.

6. Pray

Every ministry desperately needs prayer to be successful. It is easy to get caught up in making youth ministry a fun event or an entertaining place to be, but the root of youth ministry needs to be planted in the Word of God. If we are not preaching the gospel, then we are not truly a ministry to youth. Pray for spiritual guidance for the leaders of your youth ministry, for open minds and hearts for the youth that attend, and for resources and opportunities to bless the youth as well. No ministry can succeed without the power of prayer.

As this year is quickly coming to a close, think about making one of these a resolution to pursue next year. The need is out there, and many spiritual gifts are needed to make the ministry go round.
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Want to read more about youth ministry? Check out “10 Ways to Be a Better Youth Leader.”


  1. says

    To all the youth leaders out there – Thank you! To all the supporters out there – Thank You! If you have not lead or are looking for a way to encourage Youth and Youth Workers read the article. A Mission is not necessarily overseas, it is where you see it (Martin Dale)

  2. says

    Kidnap your Church staff ! Invade their day (like Mon. AM) with some semi-organized chaotic frivolity. Take them to breakfast, the golf course (…if you're rich) or just hold them hostage from their mundane "duties" in their office; not letting anyone call or pester-the-pastor for an hour. Most people in ministry have the unfair and unwritten law that they have to be serious ("sober-minded"!!!) at all times. Or, equally unfair; that they "redeem the time" ALL the Time. Try it, it works. Ministers, like police officers, lawyers, tow-truck drivers, meter maids, etc. have a thankless job. Show you love them- you spell love: T.I.M.E. Teletestai !

  3. Isaac says

    Should young adults (who haven’t been to seminary) be mentoring children? Should parents be shirking their responsibility to raise their children to be like Christ by placing that responsibility on a youth leader? I have been a youth leader for the last 7 years and I have come to know from personal experience that youth ministry is un-biblical. God wants parents spiritually mentoring their children. Please read Deuteronomy 6:4-15 and then watch the following 1 hour documentary on youth ministry.

    • Ryan Nelson says

      Why is seminary a prerequisite to discipleship? As Christians, we are all called to discipleship, but not everyone is called to seminary.

      Parents definitely have the most important role in the life of a child and to an extent, I agree with you—teachers and youth leaders should not take that primary role from parents. . . but what about the kids who come to youth group whose parents aren’t Christian?

      And if youth leaders (many of whom are parents, and plenty of whom are not young adults) who have a passion for Jesus and a passion for kids are not qualified to lead youth, how does being a parent negate the need for seminary? Is seminary then a requirement for all people in order to teach/lead/disciple?

      Jesus used those who were willing. Jesus said the workers are so few, so pray that God sends more (Luke 10:2).

      I understand a lot of what you’re saying, Isaac, and I think there are definitely examples of where youth ministry falls short, but I don’t understand the notion that someone should not mentor those who are less mature than themselves until they have attended seminary.

  4. John Murphy says

    My favorite volunteers in my youth ministries have been those that would have discounted themselves or been discounted by others but instead simply said, "God, I'm available!"

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