My memories of being a youth leader date back to 2002 when I was first asked to join the youth leadership team at the then Victory Faith Youth. I was so stoked, over the moon that I had been asked to be a youth leader. It was a huge privilege to me. I must admit that this excitement completely blinded me from the fact that I had no idea of what being a youth leader actually meant. I didn’t know what it would demand of me in terms of time, energy, and sacrifice. I was just excited that I had been recognised to be part of this leadership team.
This is probably true of many of the young guys that are (and will be) helping and serving on your leadership team. They are so excited at the privilege yet also unaware of the responsibility.
There are many privileges and joys of being on a youth leadership team. There is the recognition by others of your growth in Christ and leadership ability, the excitement of planning for evenings, the reward of helping new believers in Christ, the incredible honour of sometimes preaching or ministering, and being part of conversations that could change lives, amongst others.
However there are also difficult parts of being on a youth leadership team. You often put in a lot of hard work with no pay or appreciation from those you do it for. There is the emotional stress of helping and couselling people with their problems, the pressure of being above reproach in all areas and being a good example to those that you lead. There is also a requirement to be commited and to sacrifice some personal time which can sometimes feel restricting. On top of all these things we must remember that our leadership team is generally young and not always very emotionally and spiritually mature. This means that some of these things mentioned will have a much bigger impact on them and for some of them the challenge of facing these things continually may prove to be very difficult indeed.
Over the last year I have thought a lot about this idea of envisioning and encouraging. I want to make some comments that I hope will help us in leading our youth teams.
Envisioning is to put vision into someone. Vision is very important for us. What we see is very important. Jesus said that if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. This is an amazing conclusion that Jesus draws. It means that when we loose vision spiritually then everything else seems to go wrong too. As James so wonderfully pointed out 2 weeks ago and as Hebrews 12 tells us, our vision is Jesus who is the author and perfector of our faith. Faith is so linked to what we see. Hebrews 11 says that faith is the substance of hope and if I had to define hope it would be that what is to come is better than what we have now. So in a sense faith is the substance of the vision that we have for the future. When we have no vision or no hope we find that we become a people without faith.
This is so important for our youth leadership teams because in order to do what we are doing we need to be people who have faith. This is why it is so important to have vision and to envision those that we work with. It’s easy to spot a person who has lost vision. They become disheartened, tired, frustrated, irritable and lose their commitment to the youth. If we want to build a youth leadership team that is filled with energy, committment and faith then we need to make sure that we are envisioning ourselves and those who we are leading.
One verse that I have thought a lot about is in Proverbs where it says that those without vision cast off restraint. So it’s this picture of an unrestrained people just living however they want to. People who are filled with vision though live very differently. People like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Usain Bolt or Bono have lifestyles that are very focussed, intentional and commited. It’s because vision restrains them. It reminds them and us that we have hope that there is something better to come.
That is why it is important that we envision our youth leaders. It is easy for them to become tired, hurt and frustrated, to lose heart or restraint. It is easy for them to forget why they are doing this and to throw off all restraint. Let us keep the vision burning in our teams.
Encouraging means putting courage into someone. If you have a vision you’re going to need courage to get there. Encouragement is the little moments along the way that remind you that you are taking the right direction and that the vision is worth the sacrifice. There is this mad verse in Hebrews 3. It says this ‘Take care bretheren that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God but encourage one another day after day as long as it is still called today so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.’ For a long time, a friend of mine and I have thought about this verse. It astounds me how strongly this scripture urges us to encourage one another and that the result of not encouraging one another could be so drastic. Sin is subtle and deceitful. It hides in the shadows and wants to slip into our hearts unnoticed and then when it gets there it wants to drag us down and lead us astray. It is amazing that this verse says that the antidote to this is encouraging one another. It is to put courage into each other to continue steadfastly into that which God has for us.
There are many things that can cause our youth leaders to become discouraged including comments that people make, bad days at school or work, perceived failure at tasks or no visible reward for your labour. When discouragement sets in, vision begins to fade away and the door opens to the deceitfulness of sin. It is a horrible thing to watch a youth leader who you know has a calling and a passion for God become discouraged and start to go astray.
It is our role to make sure that our youth leaders are being encouraged. We need to be putting courage into them as often as possible, taking every opportunity to thank, affirm and notice the work that they do and what they as individuals add to the youth just by being who they are. It is quite rare that people in the youth will lavish encouragement on the youth leaders so we need to be the ones that actively encourage them when no-one else does. It is amazing what a small bit of encouragement can make to a youth leader, how it can open their hearts and excite them again for the work.
These things have been noticeable in our own youth leadership team over the years and perhaps you can relate to them too. Let us once again fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, allow him to fill us with fresh vision and encourage us in the journey forwards. And as we do so we can also remember to keep those who lead with us envisioned and encouraged from week to week. Let us encourage each other as long as it is called today as Jesus excites, inspires and energises us for the task ahead!