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On the Road to Success

I was asked to review a book about

5 months ago called “Awakening Youth Discipleship” by Brian Mahan, Michael Warren and David White. Five months later I have re-read the first 2 sections 3 times and realized without a dictionary the review was not going to happen. Maybe it was trying to figure out what “the communitarian-narrativist practices of anamnesis” meant that stalled my progress. Apparently my academic reading in regards to youth ministry should be at the level of those wonderful “for Dummmies” books. “Youth Ministry for Dummies” is a book I could review…..and it comes with pictures!

I think my attempt at reading Awakening Youth Discipleship made me realize that there are at least 2 types of youth leaders with many sub-groups I’m sure. There are those that are academically strong and immersed in youth ministry. This is their calling, vocation and strength. The second group is where I fall. We are the leaders who stumbled across youth ministry. We didn’t study it, we were given an opportunity that we hadn’t planned on. Perhaps we came upon it when no one else volunteered or it tied into another part of church work we were doing. Either way we have come to embrace the wonderful area of youth ministry but from a different perspective that those who study and know this ministry so well.

I recognize it is important to read, learn and grow when one is lacking knowledge in a specific area. If you take on the leadership of a youth group to fill a volunteer gap, or take over the ministry because you are doing a similar one and people think it would work or if you want to be a leader so your own children and their friends have a reason to be at church then you have done it for a good reason. But just because you have youth or know youth does not make you a capable youth leader. That’s like saying because your kid plays baseball you as his parent have the ability to coach. You’ve never played, don’t know the rules but since your kid loves the game then you should be able to figure the coaching out as you go. Trust me, that isn’t a good plan. No matter what your reasons are for taking on a youth program, you have to learn the basics from somewhere. But where? For those of us who aren’t going to go to school to study youth ministry or who aren’t going to read all great youth ministry authors, what do we do? Is there a place where the simple building blocks for youth programs exist? How do you learn to be a not just a competent but great youth leader? These questions are not just posed to make us think but in the hopes of a response. I really want to know and share it with the many leaders who take on a church youth group with little or no training in the hopes they can start out on the right foot. What starts us on the road to success?

Laura Walton

About Laura Walton

Laura Walton is part of the Youth Initiatives Team for the Anglican Church of Canada. She is the half time youth minister at All Saints', Collingwood and has a private counselling practice in the area as well. As the mom of 2 teenagers, a Preacher's Kid, and long time volunteer in the Diocese of Toronto Laura has worked in the field of youth and children's ministry on the ground floor level for many years. Laura has a love for sports, music and challenging the status quo which she brings to her work in youth and children's ministry.
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2 Responses to On the Road to Success

  1. What a great question! I definitely stumbled into youth ministry. When I was in Jr. High I searched for some kind of supernatural force behind the universe. I looked in some very strange places. There must have been some Christians around, but no one told me about Jesus. When I did hear about Jesus and put my trust in Him, my life was transformed. I didn’t want other young people to struggle like I did, so I started hanging out with them. Telling them what Jesus had done for me and inviting them to meet Him for themselves. I think there were three things that enabled me to be successful.
    1) I had a living relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit was at work in me.
    2) I had the support of my priest and a Bible Study group where I was loved and nurtured in God’s word.
    3) I genuinely loved the kids and wanted them to have the abundant life that Jesus promised.

    I think those are the basics. I made lots of mistakes. I was able to pick up some training on the way and I am always learning and growing. We need adults who love Jesus to love kids. I’ve been in youth ministry for a quarter of a century, I love to mentor youth leaders and would suggest that anyone in youth ministry needs to be passing on what they have learned in a way that others can understand. Let me also suggest a couple of books that have been very valuable to me.
    Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields
    Changing the World Through Effective Youth Ministry by Ken Moser

  2. That’s a great reflection, Amy. I think the point I’d affirm most in relation to Laura’s questions is the idea of mentorship. I think that’s the most crucial part of equipping new leaders; there’s some wonderful things I’ve learnt through the books I’ve read and the conferences I’ve been to but all the lessons that have really impacted me have come from working alongside other leaders.

    If all leaders made intentional mentoring and disciplining of others a key component of their ministry, I think some of the anxiety over taking leadership would fade. Not least because new (or not so new!) leaders would know, fundamentally, that they had support in times of great success and great challenge.

    I think it’s fair to say that most of our anxiety in leadership comes at those times when we feel we’re doing it alone.

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