Is Youth Ministry now judged on the quality of the leaders it creates?

I should let it go. I really should.

But like the nagging question that never goes away, there is i think more reflecting to be done on the question of the quality of youth workers as posed by Mike Pilovachi in the recent Youthwork Magazine article. The link is here: if you’re one of the few people involved in faith based youthwork/british youth ministry that hasnt read this article by now.

The questions is that all of a sudden, Youth Ministry, and by deviation the local church,  is now tasked with developing leaders of quality suitable for future ministry.

Call me Naive, but – when has this ever been the case?

Wasnt youth ministry all about responding relevantly to culture and trying to keep young people from leaving the church, and doing what it could to gather a few extras into it? ie responding to that statistic that 300 young people were leaving the church every week back in the early 1980’s?  and where it has been successful it has kept a few from leaving and attracted a few. Though not much more, as Brierleys statistics would testify.

Yes, keeping young people involved in the culture of the church might have meant giving them spaces to become leaders within the culture. The horribly named ‘junior’ leader. Yes some might feel as though they are wanting to develop leadership in the church further.

But are churches themselves and by definition those involved in youth ministry (paid, unpaid) in a position to develop leadership training for new youth leaders in a local church? In fact – lets face it – when there is ‘Mission’ to be done in the name of the church- how much training and equipping is there for it? Training isnt everything, but it might be helpful at times.. but im on a tangent…

The question of how young adults involved in youth ministry, get training as emerging new volunteers in youth ministry is a valid one – and training through being exposed to experience is crucial, but as is the ongoing one to one support of youth leaders with young people as young people learn to be volunteers – but if the youth leaders in the church are volunteers themselves, how are they going to help new leaders develop skills, actions, knowledge and practices, yes of course they can – but this is going to be limited by time as they themselves are volunteers.

Yet – what might it mean that an aim of youth ministry is to develop leaders? – When for so long it has mostly been about maintaining young people in the faith and the culture & community of the church. This is reflected in the limited resources for leadership training for young people (when resources for youth groups/sessions are in abundance) that exist in the youth ministry world. Yes there may be 100 ways to have a fun time with a group of young people and then use a bible verse to illustrate a key moment in the game, but the resource for developing leadership skills? or the resource for developing young peoples gifts? or abilities- not just leadership..? where might that be…

In a way, is the broader question one that whilst some kind of community development and responsibility in a church community is part of the tool box of youth ministry – community values that consider empowering people to furthering abilities, gifts and skills arent as evident in the values of youth ministry – as they may be in youth & community work practice- and as importantly if empowerment is a value of youth ministry it will only have ‘success’ if this is replicated in the wider culture of the local church. The type of empowerment that educates, develops and provides ongoing reflection and learning – not a leave them to it type attitude.

If developing leaders is a key part of youth ministry practice – then, as i said in my previous article here: – shall those in youth ministry start thinking with this end game at the forefront of the youth ministry process? Should we be considering ‘what kind of leader’ do we want to create in youth ministry practice – with all our 11 year olds… Maybe future practice and purpose should affect the present in this way, and youth ministry equips young people for the Mission of God and their role in this as leaders and the future pioneers current youth ministry desperately needs.  Where focussing on maintaining young people in the church has barely worked anyway. We might as well just equip young people for the leaders and adults they might already be. Even from the age of 11. And what tools do they need for being creative, visionary, compassionate, Mission of God orientated people? And how might their flourishing as kingdom seekers be encouraged?

Its not just about teaching young people to be teachers of others, that is not the only quality needed in the Kingdom of God, lets create the possibility that young people in the church are community activists, world changers, dissenters for truth and leaders of a church hell bent on transforming society.



2 thoughts on “Is Youth Ministry now judged on the quality of the leaders it creates?

  1. Hi James, not sure if you saw my comment in the previous post but I enjoy reading your perspective of youth work and ministry from the UK.

    In regard to what you’ve written above I think leadership development must be central to youth ministry, particularly in churches. And contray to what I hear you say I think it has been a focus for youth minsitries in the past. I hear you talk about how youth ministry has been attempting to ‘stop the leak’ of young people leaving the church, I just hope that this has not been the mandate churches and youth pastors have been taking. How depressing. If that was something I made a focus on then I would not call my ministry a success, nor would I be doing much disciple making, it’d all be about fun.

    But if youth ministry is focussed on Jesus, who was an amazing leader-developer himself, then my focus comes to growing disciples and growing leaders. And I think they go hand in hand more often than not. In my own youth ministry that I lead I have a big focus on equipping young people and young adults in leadership and believe that’s essential for their own faith and for the future of the church.


    1. Hi John, Thanks for this, and whilst I agree with you, certain twists in the history of youth ministry in the last 30 years in the UK have been because of a perceived ‘leak’ even if it has been wrapped up in more spiritual language. Thanks for the feedback as always and whilst i try and give a perspective, its not necessarily one that is universally concurrent with the rest of the UK youth ministry culture, but then its hard to say what this actually is. There are other writers on this, see the links on my site, and others are linked to organisations hence and they will have an organisational flavour to them. Thanks as ever…


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