One of our favorite quotes among our Pastoral staff is, “Leaders are learners—when you stop learning you stop leading.” These words have become commonplace in our church culture, but they’ve never been more true. As leaders, we have to be hungry to learn and willing to humble ourselves to someone else’s wisdom and experience.

So what makes somebody “teachable”?

Someone Who Asks Curious, Thoughtful Questions
Somebody who is curious and asks lots of good questions is hungry to learn. They are processing the information that has been provided, and now they’re seeking clarification for an even deeper understanding. They KNOW they need to learn and use the answers to those questions to propel themselves forward. If you want to show someone you’re listening, learning and leading, ask great questions.

Of the two, this one is easy. Obviously some folks are more inquisitive, and better at asking questions, but almost everybody enjoys learning life lessons and having teachable moments that they initiated!

Someone Who Is Humble Enough To Let Others In
It isn’t easy, but a truly teachable person allows others to speak into their life through exhortation, encouragement, correction, and coaching…even when they aren’t asking for it!

This one…is tough. To be open to correction you didn’t know you needed. To be coached in areas you thought you had already mastered. To be pushed in directions you don’t think you want (or need) to go. To learn from people who don’t know as much as you do. For instance, Josh knows almost nothing compared to me (Kurt…and apparently I didn’t write the “pride” article the other day), but I am shocked at how much I learn from him when I open myself up to his wisdom.

Chances are the older, more experienced, more educated and more “successful” you are, the less teachable you are, too. While this is natural, it doesn’t make sense. In the fast-paced, ever-changing world of ministry leaders simply can’t afford to quit learning. What I’ve discovered about so many of my youth ministry friends…and about myself…is that while we’re quick to ask questions and learn stuff we WANT to learn, we’re sometimes a little slower to become truly teachable.

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

TEACH THE WORD
I have found that of all of the things that I have poured into my ministry that have had by far the biggest impact on individual lives and on groups as a whole is good, solid biblical teaching of God’s word. That means different things to different people. What I mean is regular (weekly), verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter teaching. Such teaching allows God’s word to teach God’s word, not choosing a topic to teach and then searching for various verses to back up the message you want to get across.

Now there is nothing wrong with topical teaching. I actually believe that a short stretch of a certain topic once in a while that pertains to your students is very healthy. But a regular diet of topical teaching is like feeding your students ice cream week after week. They need the meat of the word. And that means expository teaching.

Many people will disagree with this and I believe they mainly do because they either have not seen this type of teaching over a long period of time impact lives or they are ignorant or even lazy. Expository teaching is, here it is, hard work. It takes much more time and effort to dig for what a passage really means, what it meant for the people that it was written to, and what it means for its hearers now.

You will do your students an injustice now and over the long haul if you fudge in this area. We live in a world of extreme biblical ignorance and I believe that is mainly the church’s fault—starting in the youth ministry. If you focus your attention on developing your ability to teach the word in a way that truly feeds students solid meat, the impact of your effort will be seen in the lives of your students now and in their lives down the road as they continue to crave the meat of the word.

LAST WORDS
Youth ministry is a wonderful, unique, challenging, often misunderstood and rewarding career. It’s no longer as much a stepping stone to being a REAL pastor as it is a very specialized ministry that requires a disciplined work-ethic along with the ability to learn how to focus on what one has been specifically called to do. This takes years of patience, endurance, faith and heart to get it right. In my experience, more than 30.

Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.



DEVELOP YOUR AND OTHERS LEADERSHIP SKILLS
“Leadership is influence – The ability to obtain followers – The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” *ch1 Your students don’t need your friendship as much as they need you to lead them. They also need you to help them develop their leadership skills. “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” *ch 10

Leadership seems to be more and more of a lost art in youth ministry. It is so easy to get lost or buried in the week in and week out responsibilities of lesson and meeting prep and all of the other details that can engulf you in youth ministry that you neglect to build into yourself, your leaders and you students what they need most: the joy of knowing how God has called them to lead in whatever situation in life that they find themselves.

Let’s face it, if leadership is influence, then everyone in your ministry is and will be a leader. You have the privilege of helping people learn to lead where they are and to learn skills that will carry into their marriages, families, businesses and ministries.

You do this by helping them to see where they are gifted and allowing them to try on different ways of using their gifts. If all of your time is spent developing your program and trying to be “successful” (whatever that looks like for you), then you will surely end up neglecting the development of leaders.

This means more than just helping your students and volunteers figure out how to lead. It means first and foremost helping them understand what it means to be a servant leader. They need to know what the heart of a leaders looks like. They need to see that a true leader ultimately serves those he or she leads out of love for them and a desire to see them succeed. Focus on helping them learn to have the heart of a leader.

Now this is all fine, but if you are not constantly developing your own leadership skills, you will constantly bump into your own shortcomings in this area. I suggest you do a few things to develop your own leadership skills:

  1. Read books on leadership
  2. Ask others how they perceive you as a leader. Ask for an honest critique.
  3. Put yourself in situations that stretch your present leadership skills.

Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.

ALWAYS BE TEACHABLE AND A CONTINUAL LEARNER
To be teachable not only means that you can be taught how to do ministry but it also, and more importantly, means that you are able to learn from your mistakes and from others’ advice. To not be teachable is to be arrogant and ultimately a sub-par youth worker.

How can you know if you are a teachable person? A teachable person welcomes input into their life and ministry (and then implements it), especially input that is tough to hear, but necessary. A teachable person longs for input that will in any way make them a better person and help them to have a healthy ministry. If you find that you are hyper-sensitive to input that goes against your ideas, or that you are less than positive about getting others’ input, you are not a teachable person.

As I stated above, making assumptions that you know how to “do” ministry can be your Achilles heel. The reality is that the moment you stop learning, you die. Having the mindset of a continual learner will help you to stay fresh and keep the people you work with fresh and excited about ministry and their faith. Knowing your church and community culture is vital. There are other things though that you need to always be learning about.

First and foremost it is important to be a continual learner in your faith. You are young. Don’t assume that what you believe in now is all that God has for you. You may find that as you pursue learning some of the theological beliefs that you held near and dear as you grew up or learned in bible college aren’t necessarily true or as concrete as you thought. Is Reformed Theology 100% true? What is your End Times beliefs? Young or old earth? NIV or ESV? These might seem unnecessary for youth ministry, but believe me, you will come across these and more as you forge ahead and want to know what YOU believe, not what others have told you to believe, especially if you are a teachable person.

Next, is to be a continual learner as far as how to communicate to young people. As you learn the style of communication and teaching that you feel most comfortable with, it is important that you not think that it is the final word. You will find that as you mature as a person and as a minister, how you communicate will also mature. The adage that I have always lived by when it comes to communicating and teaching is, “You are never as bad as you think and you are never as good as you think.”

Lastly, always be learning about how to best reach the students that God has called you to reach and minister to. Just because a camp, retreat, style of worship, room set-up, time of meeting or any program is working great, don’t assume that it will be that way in the future. Never adopt the, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” mindset in ministry. Look around you. The most successful endeavors in society, especially with technology, happen because people are watching and learning how to best stay effective.

Not that you need to adopt the world’s way of doing things per se. But to assume that something will always work just because it has been working is ludacris. The needs of your youth group will change. They’d BETTER change! If you are pouring into your ministry as you should be, change will happen, in you and in others. Needs will change. Learn to discern when these changes are taking place and always be learning what you need to do to facilitate these changes.

Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.