The term “youth leader” is regularly used in all works regarding youth ministry. It describes a person who has been set apart for a special ministry within a church toward young people. A youth leader’s role is wide and can incorporate a variety of things. Most likely this term’s used to describe a person who’s in some form or another looking after young people within the context of a church program or event.
I use this term, “Youth Leader”, and in many ways it makes a lot of sense to continue to use it. Yet, I also find it difficult to determine who’s a youth leader and who’s not within my context. Some young adults, who are not “official” youth leaders work more with young people than the youth leaders themselves. For example, I wouldn’t call our worship leaders “youth leaders”, yet they find themselves dealing with the young people of our church more than the actual youth leaders themselves.
I think this can cause an issue. A mindset can set in where people who don’t think of themselves as youth leaders, or aren’t given the official title, are classed as secondary helpers in the area of youth ministry. In many respects there becomes a two-tiered ministry – on one level there is the official youth group nights and small groups while on another level (quite often seen to be below the first) are the areas of the church community where young people themselves contribute to and interact with other members of the church (who aren’t “official” youth leaders).
In thinking about this, and also having to get my head around it while I’ve been writing some Electronic Communication Guidelines, I think a better term for all people who interact with young people in the church would be “Youth Influencers”. This term captures those who aren’t deemed to be “official” youth leaders, who don’t turn up to the youth ministry events per se, but, it includes those who deal with young people week to week. It also recognises that many people within the church can shape and mould young people, whether they are classed as leaders or not.
If youth ministries were to expand their terminology I think there could be a greater involvement and take up by people to be involved in the lives of young people. Some people don’t like to be thought of as leaders, or, they don’t have the time commitment to be active “youth ministry” leaders. Yet, this would be an opportunity to recognise those who have influence over young people in our churches and establish a culture of people investing in people.