Youth Leadership Is Ferret Racing

Ferret racing. That’s the analogy I once heard a youth ministry author* use to describe the work of developing student leaders. He even showed a video to illustrate his point.

Take all the distractions away. Make the object of leadership as simple as possible for students, as simple as “Go there and come back.” Eliminate 99% of the potential choices.

Many initiatives to give youth leadership fail for a lack of focus. We want to empower teenagers to be decision makers, and so we create a youth council and tell it to decide things about programming. But if we don’t narrow the scope of what we’re asking them to do we’re setting them up to fail, and we’re setting the church up to conclude that youth leadership doesn’t work.

There’s a world of difference between “Plan the youth ministry program for the year” and “Come up with a theme for the program year.” One is a concrete task that will show a measurable impact. The other is a field full of rabbit holes that involves mostly making lists.

It’s not about making it easy. It’s about making it effective. It’s about allowing students’ decision making to have as great an impact as possible and preventing their effort from being siphoned off onto minutiae.

*Mark DeVries at the 2009 Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry

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