|Credit: Creative Commons (Ewen Roberts)|
Most youth pastors I know are really good at the “visible” aspects of youth ministry: creating excitement, mentoring and counseling teenagers, and leading really fun events or games. In fact, that’s why many youth pastors get hired: they’re great with teenagers and create a certain level of excitement. This isn’t a bad thing. If a ministry leader can’t get at least some of the people they are leading excited about where they’re headed, then perhaps that type of leadership isn’t for him or her. But being a youth pastor is much more than creating excitement in the short-term. To be a good leader, a youth pastor needs to be good at planting.
Planting is a quality of a leader that I define as The ability to serve and lead in such a way that the people and ministries you have influence over bear fruit well beyond your reach, both in terms of time and space. Put simply, to be a planter means that the things and people you “plant” keep growing long after you or they leave.
This isn’t a quality I really cared much about for the good majority of my youth ministry career. My first youth ministry position was part time, and after three years, things had grown to the point that the church was ready to hire a full-time youth director. I was offered the position, but instead decided to move on, mostly because I was in seminary and didn’t think I would be as disciplined about finishing school if I had a full-time job. So, I resigned, feeling good that I had lead well, even though my only way of evaluating myself was that attendance had grown significantly over my three-year tenure. However, the transition to a new youth director didn’t go very smoothly. Not all of it was due to my leadership, but the fact that perhaps only one or two volunteers stayed on the team after I left tells me that I didn’t do a great job raising up leaders who were more connected to the mission than to me. That’s not good planting.
So, what is good planting?
Leaders who are committed to planting do so in the following ways:
Good leaders plant people. My goal as a youth pastor should be that the people I lead would make a much greater impact in our world than I can. The students in our youth ministry should do things as students that I never could, and should grow up to make a huge impact wherever God places them. The volunteers I lead should be equipped and encouraged to be great leaders, whether that’s in our youth ministry or whether they move on to other things. And we should seek to help parents be what youth pastors could never be to their kids: Amazing Christ-centered disciplers of their teenagers.
Good leaders plant initiatives. “Initiative” is such a vague term that I almost don’t want to use it. But it works here, because (as I’m using it) it simply means “something new that someone starts.” Good leaders start (or help start) things that God is asking them to do. It doesn’t mean that the leader manages every aspect of it. They just get it going or “plant” it. And when the time comes, they’re okay handing it over to someone who can take the seedling and really make it blossom. Good leaders start God-honoring things that will eventually have an impact long after they’re still leading that ministry.
Good leaders plant Christ-centered culture. Culture is notoriously difficult to define, so I’ll take the easy road and refuse to offer my own definition. Instead, let me just say that all leaders plant some sort of culture. And unfortunately, it can be easy to believe you’re planting one sort of culture, but when it starts growing, you realize it wasn’t what you intended to grow at all. Good youth pastors know that planting a good culture starts with who they are as leaders and how their actions express what is important to them. Make sure you’re planting a culture where Jesus is at the center.
What other things does a good youth pastor “plant”?