Skill Building for Leaders of Youth Ministry: Part 1 - Relational Skills
by Anand Menon
Effective youth ministry does not just happen. It requires leaders who have worked to improve their skills as spiritual leaders. Skill building does not often come quickly; nor is it ever complete. There is always something new to learn. It seems that just when a leader thinks that he or she really knows youth ministry, youth culture changes and the learning begins again. Training is particularly helpful in the following areas:
- Theology and philosophy of youth ministry
- Youth culture
- Introduction to resources: finding them, adapting them, using them
- How to plan budgets, work camps, retreats, youth trips, parent training
- Risk management
- Relational, organizational, and spiritual guidance skills
The following lists of skill assets may be helpful as you seek to build leadership
skills in youth ministry:
1. Relational Skills
Leaders (both adult and youth) are likely to be in several types of relationships-
sometimes several types with one person in the group.
- Person-to-person. Adult and youth are both children of God. The only real difference is that one is older in experience than the other. Each has unique abilities and talents to contribute to the other and to the group. Each one needs to accept the other fully and with caring.
- Adult-to-youth; youth-to-adult. The adult is not youth, and the youth is not an adult. Each should act his or her own age, with no apologies and with no resentment toward the other. Furthermore, nothing is phonier than an adult trying to act like a teenager.
- One-to-one. A leader relates to a group best by relating to the individuals in it. All relationship building in youth ministry requires several skills. The adults may need to develop these skills and help the youth to do the same.
- Listen. For true communication, the speaker needs to feel that a leader is actively listening to what he or she has to say. When we truly listen, we use not only our ears but also our eyes, emotions, wisdom, and heart.
- Respond. After listening comes response, for it is only through a response that the person is sure he or she has been heard. Respond is an active verb, and we can respond through encouragement, affirmation, and nonverbal gestures. This opens the door to new ideas and new relationships.
- Speak. Sharing is opening and giving of oneself to someone else. The leader should never hold back appropriate sharing of ideas, concerns, and feelings with youth. However, this sharing should be done in the person to person mode and never as colonel to corporal.
- Affirm. Youth need to be appreciated for who they are and what they do. Such affirmation comes in the form of both individual and group acknowledgments (congratulations), sharing information with others who in turn affirm the youth, and recognition through use of their leadership skills, special interests, and talents.
- Encourage. Leaders can help youth grow by encouraging them to stretch their experiences, to try things they have never tried before that will deepen understandings, sharpen skills, and open doors into new worlds of discovery. The act of encouraging requires perception about where persons are in their development, sensitivity to their feelings and self-perceptions, and the willingness to be present with them in their ventures.
- Enable. Enabling means to assist youth by helping them see, act out of, and grow through their own abilities. Adults suggest, coach, encourage, congratulate, affirm, and support youth. When an adult is an enabler, he or she does everything possible to help the youth make decisions and plans that lead to successful conclusions.
- Trust. Youth need to know they are trusted and respected by both their peers and the adults whom they respect. This is usually communicated by attitudes and actions rather than by words. One way to communicate trust is to take seriously the things youth say.
- Be approachable. In either serious matters or simple concerns, a leader can contribute to the emotional and spiritual growth of youth by being a person who is approachable and available.
Caution! Be alert for problems beyond the limits of your counseling skills. When a problem calls for professional help, work with the appropriate persons to obtain that help for the youth. It is a good idea to check out the professional counselors in your area who work with youth so you will immediately know someone to whom you can refer youth if the need arises. Always inform and involve the parents of the troubled teen in any further professional help.
- Be trustworthy. Adults do not have a greater responsibility to parents than they do to the youth. Do not betray the trust a youth might put in you by going to parents or to the pastor or to anyone else without permission of the youth. However, you do have a responsibility to the parents-they are now and have always been the primary source of help for the youth-and they love him or her. Your efforts to help a youth should include encouraging him or her to share the problem with the parents. If you feel you must reveal information to another person about a problem a youth has shared with you, be sure you have first told the youth of your intentions and your reasons.
- Protect. The church and the youth ministry should be "safe sanctuaries" in which youth can grow in their relationship with God without fear of being harmed or abused-physically, emotionally, neglectfully, sexually, or ritually. Many churches have developed policies to screen individuals who work with children and youth and safety procedures to be followed during activities and outings.
Safeguarding Youth Ministries
Some common policies for prevention of abuse include:
- Two-adult rule: There is never just one adult present with youth.
- Five-years-older rule: Workers should be five years older than the people with whom they work and never younger than eighteen years old.
- Sleeping arrangements: Youth and adult never sleep in the same bed and preferably not in the same room on an outing.
- Counseling: One-on-one discussions are held only with the door open.
- Windows rule: There should be windows in all classroom doors.
- Screening procedures: Adequate background checks are performed for individuals who work with children and youth.
- Training about abuse: Youth leaders must be aware that abuse can happen anywhere and know the facts about preventing it. Familiarity with the signs of abuse and knowledge of reporting procedures are essential for today's youth worker. A worker with youth must be prepared to tell if he or she suspects an abusive situation.
- Physical safety issues: Youth workers should be conscious of safety concerns when leading activities and games. Proper equipment and adequate supervision of the activity should always be in place-one adult per eight to ten youth in normal situations.
- Safe driving: A youth worker who transports youth should be a safe driver and have proper credentials. The use of seat belts should always be enforced.
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