Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: A Barnabas spirit…

We’re all quite good at structure these days.

We have our aims, objectives, values and mission statements and, generally, these have improved the way we do things. There is more training around, particularly in all these fields, but I wonder if our training stretches to, or even includes, the way we deal with people.

How teams operate

I have just returned from two weeks at Wimbledon, acting as a steward (someone has to do it!). That whole operation is done by nearly 300 people all in teams with people in charge of different groups around the grounds. It is fascinating to watch teams operate. Some leaders operate by chasing people up as soon they see them do something they shouldn’t — others operate by encouraging people with helpful advice. There are over 50 mentions of the word ‘encourage’ (or its derivations) in the Scriptures and it is more used in the New Testament than in the Old when the church was in its infancy and plenty of people were making mistakes.


Undoubtedly there are some us who need a word of caution or rebuke but I suspect there are many more who flourish when encouraged. I wonder if you’re’ feeling encouraged in your ministry with young people at the moment. Is there a culture of encouragement in your church — and that does not mean saying ‘you’re great’ when you’re not? Many people doing youth ministry are quite inexperienced and need encouragement in the way they do things. A critical spirit is often a product of insecurity and I keep hearing about people being discouraged by criticism. It can also emerge from jealousy, as a younger leader emerges with an amazing gift which appears to overshadow ‘the boss’. One would hope that would be a matter for great rejoicing, but, sadly, it often isn’t.

It can also emerge from inflexibility. A plan had been devised and nothing can change it — it is cast in stone. But it is obvious to most that it needs changing — the result is tension and criticism. How we work together is vital. Ministry is a team exercise and it works best when each encourages the other and rejoices in the gifts seen in that team. That is the way a team will flourish. I would love Barnabas’s name (Acts 4.36) as part of my epitaph (no plans to demise just yet!). If I could be remembered as one who encouraged others to flourish I would rest easy.

It may need a conscious effort — ‘love has given me great joy and encouragement’ (Philemon 7) — and we may need to evaluate how we build our teams and get them using their gifts in the wonderful patchwork of ministry that weaves together to make an effective team. It may need a change of attitude — it may need a change of leaders’ meeting style, so that meetings encourage rather than deflate. By all means evaluate and shape team members, but do it in a way that builds them up. They should not fear their leader — they should enjoy working under their godly leadership.


Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. 

This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057