CYM Blog

Investment Required: Developing Teen Leaders

One of my favorite parts of youth ministry at a parish is building up a team of teen leaders. So much joy comes out of investing in these relationships, and empowering the teens to minister to their peers, and to those a few years younger than them.

Doing this can take on many different looks, but I prefer working with teen leaders as a part of a team. Jesus didn’t call one apostle — he called twelve. True leaders will figure out how to work well with others, even when personalities clash. Teams create accountability and allow teens to learn from each other. Here is my plan for developing teen leaders:

Pray and discern: Pray about who you’re being called to mentor as leaders, and how you will invite them in. I prefer sending a letter inviting them to be part of a leadership team. Perhaps include that a Core Member, priest or parish staff member nominated them?

Define their role: Make a job description, as the teens need know the leadership team expectations. Consider having a team covenant — and give the teens a say in forming it. Hold them accountable to this and encourage them to help each other stick to it.

Humility first: Emphasize servant-leadership. Don’t just tell them, show them through taking out the trash, stacking chairs, etc. The model of true leadership is Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet. Jesus taught and preached, but he was a servant first – which gave greater meaning to His teachings. In the same way, being on a peer ministry team doesn’t always mean being up in front.

Give them a voice: To encourage the teens to take ownership, give them chances to share ideas, brainstorm and help plan the retreat or Edge Nights. Maybe that is planning games or being creative with a skit, or maybe it involves giving testimonies and helping to shape some activities.

Feed them: Invest in the leaders by feeding them spiritually – continually. Sometimes leadership teens start to dismiss the “routine” or think what is being offered isn’t for them. Challenge them to be present at typical Life Nights and social events, but go deeper with your leaders! Share your prayer routines and practices, and what you do to grow in the faith. Perhaps include training, along with a short book or Bible study as part of leadership team meetings?

Affirm: The glory belongs to God, but we need to let a teen know when they’ve done a great job! Affirm them to the pastor, the parish staff, to parents, to the Core Team, and to other teens. Additionally, help them learn to react and learn when they fall short. Affirm your leaders publicly and privately, but work on correcting shortcomings in private.

Challenge: Teen leaders desire challenges. Be willing to invite them to say yes to the difficult choices of discipleship. There are boundaries to how we challenge teens, but this is learned through individual relationships. Find the balance between being too passive and actively helping a teen grow and mature in their faith.

Evaluate: Let the leaders evaluate their performance — individually and as a group. Give them constructive criticism and help them make goals they can reach. Continually give feedback. They are learning, and they are also sponges and want to soak up what you are trying to share.

At the center is leading the teens closer to Christ, which will take investment on your part. You will spend a lot of time with your teen leaders, including planning sessions, retreats, meaningful conversations, and prayer opportunities. Take the time to grab coffee with these teens—and spend that time talking about them and the faith they are living into (not you and not the ministry).

There are many outcomes in developing teen leaders, but the most important is that we are teaching them to be lifelong disciples and leaders in the Church. The investment might seem high at times, but helping to mentor co-workers in the vineyard of ministry is so worth it!

About the Author

Chris Epplett

Chris lives in Plymouth, MI. He used to own a dog, but the dog found a better home. Chris is a life-long Catholic who attended an active Life Teen program in high school. He enjoys writing, running and the Detroit Lions. He does not like mayonnaise, gout or bad drivers. He is the high school youth minister at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, MI. Chris has lived in Michigan his entire life, lovingly pointing to various spots on his hand, aka the Mitten. To connect with Chris, email him at cepplett@gmail.com.