Leading Youth

hands holding up letters that spell leadership

by Jean Lehn Epp, Interim Coordinator of Youth Ministry Resources - We find in Jesus both a model and purpose for giving leadership to children, youth and young adults of the church. We look to the Bible for stories of leadership done well as well as leadership falling short of its desire of faithfulness to God. As the apostles and Jesus followers faced challenges and organized their life together, they made room for leadership with a variety of roles like deacons, evangelists, prophets, elders, preachers, teachers, etc. The community was given the task of recognizing God given gifts and testing to see if those gifts were truly rooted in the Holy Spirit. These gifts of leadership were also given to build up the community of faith, not to divide it. There are lots of examples in the New Testament when leadership visions and styles clashed. For example, when Paul and Barnabas parted ways and decided that working in different places was the best option – agreeing to disagree in love. Gifts of leadership are empty and incomplete without their purpose to build up the body of Christ. New Testament images of leadership include stewards, shepherds, ambassadors, agents of reconciliation, even servants.

How does Jesus give meaning to your ministry with youth?

four heads together in circleHow does Jesus give meaning to your ministry with youth? How do you try to model your ministry after Jesus? What does it mean to you to be a servant leader in the church setting that you are in? At different times we lead in different ways. If we are leading from ahead then we are inviting youth to follow our model and take cues from our behaviour as well as giving clear boundaries for safety. If we are leading from beside, we are journeying alongside, taking cues and asking questions that help us listen for what youth need from us. When leading from behind we are like the cheerleaders, encouraging and nudging youth to experience and explore outside of their comfort zone. When do you use these different leadership styles and why?

Ignatian Imaginative Spiritual Exercises

  • Ignatian Spiritual Exercises are a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices developed by St. Ignatius Loyola, a 16th century Spanish priest, theologian, and founder of the Jesuits. 
  • The exercises are meant for spiritual renewal and examination through the use of imagination
  • Traditionally the exercises are used for a retreat and would focus on four major themes: sin, the life of Jesus, the passion of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.


Take some time to create a reflective space around you without distractions. Read Luke 9:1-6 out loud.  Use the following exercise to reflect.  Spend a minute or two on each statement: 

  • Imagine that you are one of the disciples.
  • You have been traveling with Jesus for some time now.
  • There are moments when you get a glimpse into who Jesus is and other moments when you just don’t understand what he wants of you.
  • Still, you follow Jesus’ lead, observing Jesus as he goes about healing, teaching, forgiving sins, hanging out with the poor and down & out.
  • One day, out of the blue, Jesus calls all of you together.
  • He tells you that you are to be leaders like he is.
  • He gives you power and authority to heal like he heals and to confront evil, face your demons and proclaim the kingdom of God.
  • You don’t get time to pack any bag.
  • Really, he tells you not to take anything on this journey…no staff, no luggage, no snacks, no money, no smart phones, no tablets, not even an extra hoodie or a GPS.
  • Jesus tells you that when you are welcomed into someone’s home then stay and be present with them for the time that you are there.
  • When you come to a place where they don’t welcome you, and that is not an if but a when, shake the dust off your feet, let it go and move on, don’t over analyze or get angry, just move on with integrity
  • How does it feel to be sent out into the world to be a leader like Jesus?
  • Are you ready to go?
  • Do you know what to do when you get there?
  • How does it feel to be sent out without anything, just your ability to be present to others?


What did you discover about yourself or about Jesus through this exercise?

How can you use this in your ministry setting?


Youth Ministry Spotlight
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