Leading from the Back of the Room?

The training room is buzzing because it's packed with students and youthworkers. These are some of my favorite people on the planet!

I launch into our training time, and before long, it's time for some small group proccessing and application of what we've just learned and experienced together. I watch as students gather into groups and immediately begin dialoguing, engaging, and applying. As I make my way around to the various small groups, I listen. The interaction and learning seems to be rich and real.

I move from group to group—from front to back—listening and observing.

When I get to the back of the room, I notice something not quite fitting for a training experience.

Many of the adult "leaders" are leaning against the back of the wall chit chatting with each other—totally disengaged with the students and the training.
I walk up to several different youth leaders, look them in the eyes, smile, and say, "Hey, the students from your youth ministry are learning to share their stories. I know they'd love to hear yours and tell you theirs."

Blank stares. In some cases, looks of disdain. Not one youthworker moves toward the engaged students.

Okay. I can't really force someone to interact with students. But this whole adults-in-back thing has got me thinking.

What's wrong with this picture?
1. These adults are missing the training. They might be older than the students, but they still need to learn—and perhaps even more important—they need to model a learner's heart for students. 

2. These adults are missing what their students are learning from God and each other.

3. These adults are missing a golden opportunity to be a Proverbs 27:17 disciplemaking friend in a student's life—by using a training moment to speak truth and love into their lives of students.

4. These adults are missing a potential life-change moment—for themselves, their students, and perhaps their entire ministry.

These adults leaning against the back wall of the training room are missing the chance to fulfill their job description: to love, lead, mentor, coach, and disciple the next generation.

It's makes me wonder.

Where did we ever get the idea that our job as youthworkers was to simply drive students to some event while we stand at the back of the room chit chatting with other adult youth leaders? Perhaps this is an isolated case?  I'm sorry to say that I see this way too often. We seem to have gotten lazy and unfocused in our calling as youthworkers. Perhaps we've been to too many Christian concerts, Christian comedians, and retreats with gifted speakers and great bands.

We would do well to ask ourselves a few clarifying questions:
1. If we're not really interested in interacting with students, should we be in youth ministry?
2. Is an adult in youth ministry really a "leader" if he/she doesn't relationally interact with students?
3. Do we understand the difference between running a program and being a part of a ministry?

The more I reflect on it, the clearer it becomes to me. It is possible to lead from the back of the room, but it's impossible to lead well from the back of the room.

 In other words, standing in the back of the room talking with other adults while students engage God and each other is bad leadership.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Is the ministry you serve suffering from Program-itis—an obsession with programs at the expense of building life-changing relationships? This book can help youIt includes a chart that shows 12 ways ministry is different than a program. It would be great for your next leader's meeting. I dare you. 

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