I spent about 6 years as a volunteer in youth ministry before I became a Youth Pastor. During that time, I found myself waiting, not so patiently, for my opportunity to lead. I began to feel a growing call to ministry, specifically youth ministry, and I wanted to lead my own youth group. All the while, I was lackadaisical with my game choices, I waited until the last minute to prep my messages when I was given an opportunity to speak, and I ultimately did nothing to support the Youth Pastor at the time. I felt that I was ready to lead, but I had no concept on how to follow.

There is a potential for us as leaders to adopt the belief that we have arrived. We are no longer the volunteer or the helper, but rather, we are the leader, the head honcho. We have obtained some level of authority and leadership, and we no longer need to play the role of the follower. I am contending that this is a dangerous thing to believe. In fact, one of the greatest ways to grow as a leader is by becoming a better follower.

The art of following well, especially as a leader, is lost in our culture today. So this begs the question, how do we follow well from a position of leadership? And how does following well drive us to leading better? I want to submit three ways that we as leaders can model what it looks like to follow well. They are to serve, to support, and to stay.

First, we are called to serve: to serve our church, to serve our students, to serve our volunteers, to serve the staff, and to serve the lead pastor. Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually in serving that we humble ourselves and learn to lead with greater influence and integrity.

In addition, we are called to support. Our youth ministry ultimately exists to support our church, and more specifically, our lead pastor’s vision. Too often youth ministries become an autonomous organization with its own mission and vision. We must guard our hearts against any thoughts to separate ourselves from the larger church. In doing this (supporting the vision and mission of our church), we gain understanding on how to lead our area of ministry better.

Finally, we are called to stay. Youth ministry is often seen as the stepping stone to “real ministry” or “becoming a lead pastor.” While this may happen, we must not treat it as such. We have been entrusted with young hearts and minds that need to hear about the love and truth of Jesus Christ. Don’t abandon ship when it gets tough, don’t walk away when you are corrected, and don’t leave just because a better opportunity has presented itself. Stay. It’s in the staying that we find real perseverance, dedication, and diligence.

Serving. Supporting. Staying. All characteristics of a good follower. All characteristics of a great leader.

Do you want to become a better leader? Start by following. Your students, your volunteers, your pastor, and your church will thank you for it.

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Bryan Leonardy
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