One of the most common issues young/new youth workers seem to struggle with is how they are supposed to lead someone who is older or more experienced than them. It’s a good question.
I had my first youth ministry job at 18 years old fresh out of high school as the Jr. High Director at my church. Many of the volunteers who served on my team had been my youth leaders only months earlier and now I was suddenly in a position of authority over them. They had more youth ministry experience than I had, and all of them were older – some by quite a few years. How could I possibly be their leader?
Not long after I began my ministry a member of another youth organization and one of the most respected youth workers in the region came into the youth center and said “I want to serve on your team”. This guy had literally been doing ministry longer than I had been alive! I was thrilled to have someone so experienced, but incredibly intimidated.
Just after he joined the team I remember a specific conversation where he came to me concerned about something that was happening in the ministry. Much to my surprise he didn’t steamroll me or try to tell me what to do based on all his years of wisdom. He simply brought the issue to my attention and said,
“It’s your call, you’re our leader.” “What???” This guy wants me to tell him what to do?
I quickly came to realize that though it might seem like I was “nobody” to be serving as leader, that wasn’t really the case. As the person put in charge of the ministry it was my responsibility to set the vision and direction for the ministry; to design the strategy and plan the weekly programs. Though we collaborated on those things as a team, I was the one who did them on a daily basis. That meant that I was uniquely qualified to organize my team around the program I designed.
Even though at that point all of the youth workers had more ministry experience than I did, it was part of my job to take time every week to keep up on the latest in youth culture, and to study the latest in youth ministry theory. My position also made me the one accountable to the church for the ministry.
If you’re a young youth worker trying to figure out how you’re supposed to lead volunteers you feel like have “seniority”, understand that they probably don’t see it the same way, it’s likely more your insecurity than their feelings about the situation.
If you do have a leader on the team who takes offense to your leadership then take them aside, explain to them how much you value their experience and input as a member of the team and you’re glad their involved, but that you’re the one accountable for the ministry. Most people will be able to appreciate that but there may be a few who need to step down.
No matter how much more experience they might have or how much older they are, you are the one who has been given responsibility for the ministry, and you are the one who is accountable for it. Don’t be afraid to lead your team with confidence.
Bio: Timbo is a communicator, writer, trainer, youth ministry coach, and the founder of www.StudentMinistryCentral.com . He has been teaching and training youth leaders for more than 12 years and is passionate about equipping volunteers for ministry.