Shepherding in Youth Ministry – Part 1

By Shane Thacker October 19, 2021

An ongoing and unfortunately ever-growing problem in youth ministry is the missed opportunities to develop student attendees to become student leaders. It creates a culture of great fun with no roots, and it’s killing the next generation of the church in America. Doug Franklin brought this issue to light in a recent post in a Facebook group for youth leaders, Youth Ministry Collaborators. Doug asked this: “how do students lead when an adult is really accountable for the results?” 

As youth leaders, it’s no secret that we have a lot of weight on our shoulders to raise up students to become followers of Jesus, but also to become leaders for Jesus. They’re the next generation of the church! What sort of a legacy do you want to leave for the generation after them?

In our youth program, we of course feel that same weight on our own shoulders; but over time in youth ministry, we’ve found a very effective way to raise up students to become leaders, and we want to share it with you. Raising up student leaders doesn’t start with the student, it begins with the leaders.

Developing Student Leaders

You can’t possibly expect yourself to lead your entire youth group by yourself to become leaders. You have to have other leaders, the right leaders, in place. So here’s the question: How do you find the “right leader”? Here are 3 things to bear in mind when looking for the “right leader”:

The “right leader” isn’t likely the one you expect to be the right leader.

God used the most incompatible people for purposes well beyond themselves. Moses for example, was called by God to tell Pharaoh that God said “let my people go”. Moses couldn’t speak well, was timid, didn’t feel he had the authority, and just flat out didn’t want to do it! We certainly have to be on guard about not allowing hazardous people to lead students, but it’s far too often that we have a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to who is ‘qualified’. Be careful not to put God (or his servants) in a box!

The “right leader” isn’t likely to have the same skills as you do… yet.

One of the best ways I get to know our youth leaders, is by serving alongside them. Sometimes they take on something that they’ve NEVER done before. Maybe it’s leading a lesson or a small group session, or maybe it’s talking one-on-one with a student about how to become a follower of Christ. Biblical accuracy is of course necessary, but if afterward all we do is point out the flaws of how they delivered those messages or taken on those tasks, they’ll quickly get discouraged. If we can encourage them to continue developing those skills, they’ll likely exceed your own abilities one day. That’s when their leadership comes alive!

The “right leader” is the one you invest in and develop.

Someone hopefully invested in you (hopefully still investing in you), and as a youth leader you need to be investing as much as you’re able to invest in the youth leaders that serve with you. It takes time, it takes patience, but it is so well worth it! Why? Because when you invest in your leaders, your leaders will invest exponentially in your students. 

In Part 2 of Shepherding in Youth Ministry, we’ll talk about how we can effectively use our whole team of adult leaders to raise up student leaders for Jesus.

About the Author

Shane Thacker

Shane Thacker is the Youth Pastor at Inola Christian Church in Oklahoma. His mission is to develop content that points people to Jesus. He believes that if leaders gravitate to the right foundation for a healthy, sustainable ministry, it’s going to produce healthy leaders and healthy churches, leading people in their community effectively and in unity for…  Read More