Five Key Insights for Every Adult Leader
You desire to see young people accept Christ as their Savior and Lord and learn to live for Him joyfully in every moment of every day. That’s why you’re devoting your time, talents & treasures to hanging out with young people! (What adult signs up for an all-nighter just for fun??) Because of your passion to see them grow in their relationship with Christ, you may be involved in things like teaching Bible studies, leading small group discussions, planning events, reaching out to students who haven’t attended your meetings recently, working to develop intergenerational connections between youth and members of your church family...there’s no shortage of work to be done! It’s a hard and heart work that you devote yourself to for the sake of gospel and love for young people.
But, what if I told you that the approach described above actually leads to anemic faith in young people? That the way the majority of adults approach ministry to the next generations is one of the causes of youth leaving the church before or after they graduate high school? That this concept of youth ministry results in young adults who don’t take initiative to meet ministry needs and adults who have no understanding or desire to be part of the body of Christ?
Empowering, equipping and unleashing young people to develop their faith often requires a fundamental rewiring of the role of an adult volunteer.
Simply put, we need to fight the urge to take on the role of PLAYER, and instead embrace the role of COACH. Imagine training a soccer team for a big game. Getting them all prepared and ready, knowing exactly how to play and what their role is. Then, on game day, having them just sit on the sidelines and watch older people play until they get their turn someday. Our natural reaction would be, “No! Get those players on the field!” What good is all that preparation and practice if they don’t get to play?
Yet, so often that’s how we approach discipleship. We passively train and prepare young people...but then rarely give them the opportunity to get on the field! We give them a lot of good instruction and knowledge, but we adults still stay in the role of the player. We need to get off the field – and let the young people take on the responsibility and ownership of being players! That’s when deep discipleship takes place in the hearts of young people. By being challenged to put their faith into action, it solidifies and deepens their understanding of God and faith.
This isn’t to say that the role of the adult isn’t important! That would be like saying the coach of a sports team isn’t needed. In all reality, the team would fail miserably and fall apart entirely without their coach. The coach is an essential element in a sports team...but they aren’t on the field during the game. They are on the sidelines providing direction, instruction and encouragement. This allows the players to be in the game, and to blossom into their full playing ability. The same needs to be true when it comes to discipling young people. Stepping into your role as coach is key to your young people growing closer to Christ during your time with them. You are opening the door of opportunity to them and aiding in the development of their personalities, their knowledge, their leadership potential and how all of these things relate to Christ and the church.
The role of the coach isn't to just get the players playing on the field – your job isn’t simply to get the young people you’re working with to lead & do everything.
Certainly, a big part of your role is helping them gain that competency. But just as important is helping your players develop their character. Focusing on building competency without also building character is like trying to live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16) without also living into the Greatest Commandment (Mark 12:30-31). We’re not asking young people to lead the ministry for the sake of just having them take action, we're helping them learn how to carry responsibility in community. That will be an invaluable lesson wherever life takes them.
To sum it all up, our job as adults isn’t to do everything for young people so they can experience Christ through our events, programs and lessons. Our job is to walk alongside them as they learn to do and to lead. Now, let’s take a deeper look at the equipment you’ll need to be an effective coach
The EQUIPMENT of the Adult Coach
ONE - The sideline - get comfortable putting young people in charge of the action. Encourage, direct and cheer them on. It will feel weird and awkward...especially when you see them failing or doing poorly. Resist the urge to jump onto the field. Instead, provide encouragement, insight and support!
TWO - Call a “time out!” – Because you’re going to be intentionally asking young people to take on tasks and responsibilities that feel overwhelming to them and that they’ve never done before, things won’t always go right. Sometimes you’re going to need to call a timeout in the midst of a planning session, or after an activity, or when a young person is talking with you about their responsibilities. Again, it’s going to feel unusual...our natural reaction is usually to ‘accomplish tasks’ rather than to ‘slow down and reflect’. But, calling a time out to help youth process what they’re doing and learning is crucial.
THREE - Game Plan – coaches are in a unique position to call out talents and abilities in their players that the players themselves didn't even know existed. At times players resist the expectations and pressures that are put on them because they don't see the big picture. Often these players also don’t recognize the strength of their own abilities. To remain in this crucial position, the coach needs a ‘game plan’ to work from. Your role, and the resistance you'll face from young people who don't yet believe in themselves, is much the same. Keep calling out that Kingdom-potential that is laying dormant – undiscovered and unused – inside of students! Keep the big picture ‘game plan’ in mind!
FOUR - Whistle – Remember that you’re a coach, not a fan watching from the stands. Call out ungodly, inappropriate, shallow and half-hearted actions in your young people. Giving responsibility and leadership to young people won’t make them immediately mature (if only! ) and correction and refocusing will still be essential.
FIVE - HEART – this is your most important piece of equipment. The level to which you’re working on strengthening your own commitment to Christ and the depth of your love for the youth you’re working with (Mark 12:30-31) will largely determine your effectiveness as a coach. The next section gives practical ways to make sure you’re developing your heart!