Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Every Youth Worker Needs: Supportive Leadership

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:..., I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

Being a lead youth worker, paid or volunteer, is a very demanding position. You have to make many decisions every day, some that will affect the students for years to come. Sometimes, you do not get time to think about what you need to do, you just have to act. Other times, you have several days, at the least, to think through how best to handle a situation. But no matter how minor or monumental your decision is, you need to have leadership that will support you through it all.

Having supportive leadership does not mean that the other ministers and elders will agree with everything you suggest. Nor does it mean that you will pursue everything you want to. It does mean that you have the ability to discuss ideas openly and freely, knowing they will do what they can to provide the guidance and support you need. This might mean that when you suggest an idea, they gently encourage you to think of another option. Or it will mean that they agree with your suggestion, and encourage you to continue with implementing it.

But the real advantage of supportive leadership comes after a new program is started or another one is ended. Supportive leaders will listen to people's opinions and respond without degrading your decision. They will also try to help bring clarity and understanding to those who are opposed to something within the youth ministry. A supportive leader will not talk negatively of you, your ability to minister, or the ministry. Anything to the contrary would have already been handled behind "closed doors" and will not be discussed in public.

When a youth worker has supportive leaders, there are 2 crucial changes that occur within the mind of the youth worker: confidence and courage.

Disclaimer: Before I delve into these 2 changes, allow me to say that I firmly believe that God is the one who changes hearts, not the youth worker.

1. Confidence.
I have found from my experience that no matter how much a youth worker strives to follow God's leading it does not always lead to leading with confidence. You can feel confident that you are following God, but struggle to lead with the same confidence. No matter how "on track" with God you are, when you do not have supportive leadership, you struggle with second guesses and insecurities.

It's not that you do not believe in the future of the ministry, but you are not confident others will see it the same way. And when you lack the support of the leadership, you can begin to wonder if a change in the ministry will lead to making people upset - which could lead to the leadership deciding it is time for you to move on. The opposite is also true, though. When you are following God's leading AND backed by the support of the congregational leadership, then you have the confidence to face the obstacles and naysayers head on. You can face them head on because you know that you are not the only person who wants to see the ministry thrive. As your confidence grows, you must keep yourself from becoming arrogant, this level of over-confidence will lead to conflict with the leadership and will likely lead to more damage than you want to handle.

2. Courage.
Besides gaining confidence to handle the post-decision discussions with people, a supportive leadership allows the youth worker to lead with courage. When youth workers have the support of the leaders, they are willing to try new things and take more risks within the youth ministry. You do not have to feel apprehensive about the unknown outcome when you know you will not be facing it alone.

Leading a ministry means you are out in front of those you are leading. And sometimes leading a ministry is scary, but when you have the support of the leadership you do not feel as scared. You should always be following God's lead in your ministry, but even following God does not mean you do not feel scared. Working with supportive leadership helps a youth worker maintain the courage to make decisions based on God's leading, not the people's reactions.

Are you working with supportive leadership?
If you are not, what can you do to move in that direction?
Have you showed your leadership how thankful you are for their support?

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

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