Ask The Source

How do I deal with arrogant student leaders?


Hello! I have all your books and love them!

I recently moved churches, from a church in MN to a church of the same denomination in FL due to my husband’s job.

When I got to the church, a lot of feelings were hurt because the prior, very much loved youth director, had left to go to the mega church down the street. He took with him a good amount of people.

There were three student leaders in place: one leader of games, one for music, and one for hospitality. They ran those areas on their own. I talked about changing that too soon, and was met with lots of anger and resentment from them and one adult parent/volunteer of the music leader.

My issue with how it’s run is that the youth have let the power go to their heads. They will not allow the band to play new songs if the band leader is missing that night. Nobody can suggest a song the band leader doesn’t like, because he will veto it.

Now these are the loudest, most opinionated youth I have ever met. Due to that, they have a lot of pull with the youth involved.

I have read your MINISTRY BY TEENAGERS book, and now that I have been here a year, am comfortable making that shift. Well, I shared that with this group of student leaders, and they do not want adults involved with their teams. They want to be the head of the teams. They feel as though any adult would micro-manage them and they wouldn’t get to really do what they want because an adult has the adult factor making them really in charge, which I can see from their perspective.

So now I am unsure of what to do. While I explained that the purpose of the adults is to support them and encourage them; they were not at all ready to have it, even if they were able to help select the adults who would be working with them.

How can I make this new game plan a go? Should I back down and let them lead without adults? Or is it worth forcing it on them, when they are completely against it, and dealing with the ramifications? I’m not sure. Is there any way to balance this so it’s not just my way or their way? Adults involved in each team or not at all? I could use some of your expect advice!

Thank you!!!




Thanks for the email.

First… it’s hard for me to really give you an accurate take on this since I’m not there to see this first hand. But I can give you some broad principles that might help.

As you probably read in our MINISTRY BY TEENAGERS book, humility is an important quality in leadership. If I have a leader that isn’t humble and isn’t willing to be a servant leader… he or she isn’t a leader. Period. And most student leadership programs I have run and have consulted on have adult mentors for accountability. This is a huge staple of Christian leadership, whether they like it or not.

The difficult situation is that youÕre a new youth worker there. New pastors and youth pastors always have it rough. A good rule of thumb is to not act too quickly.

One thing you should do is talk with your senior pastor about this and seek his advice. It’s good to do this to 1. Keep him/her in the loop, 2. know if you’re going to have his/her support on this too!!! 🙂

After chatting this over with your senior pastor (and hopefully gaining his support)… I’d have a student leadership meeting where you discuss some of the “General” expectations for the student leadership team. Start by asking them to come up with Biblical qualities that they think student leaders should exemplify. If they don’t come up with some… suggest some and see what they think. Make sure you bring up “humility” (or a lack of the opposite- PRIDE) and also mention discipleship, showing Biblical examples (Jesus disciples under him 3 years, Timothy under Paul, etc.) Don’t make any decisions at that meeting… just collect what you come up with and make a date for a next meeting.

At the next meeting, show them the Biblical standards that they (and you) came up with. Make sure that “accountability” and “humility” are on the list. Personally… I wouldn’t change ANYTHING, but I’d add those two qualities in there. I’d say something like this. “Now that we’ve met and looked at some of the Biblical examples of leadership, I’ve come up with some leadership expectations that we’re going to use. (Don’t ask- tell them this.) I’m not going to change a thing. I like what you guys are doing. I’m just going to add two ingredients based on our meeting. And I talked with Pastor Ron (whoever your pastor is) and he agreed with me on these two missing elements: humility, and mentorship.” Then explain how each student is going to be required to meet with a mentor and how adult mentors will be there to support each team. You can also talk about the need for an attitude of service, and mention that you haven’t seen that.

Let them know that these are non-negotiables and they can let you know by the end of the week if they don’t want to be leaders. But tell them that you hope they stay aboard.

It’s not going to be an easy road.

Make sure that, in the meantime, you continue to meet and disciple other GROWTH KIDS so that you have other potential leaders for the future. (See my book CONNECT for more about that in detail).

That’s my two cents.

I asked David R Smith, the co-author of MINISTRY BY TEENAGERS your question, and he had this to add:

    This is a common problem with young people today, especially this entitled generation. A couple more thoughts.

    You talk about the former youth pastor leaving and going Òdown the street.Ó Hopefully this is slightly farther than just Òdown the street,Ó but with the way you word it, it makes me think he is still close enough to exert influence on the kids youÕve retained. (ItÕs at least close enough that other students followed him to that church.) IÕd say be conscious of this going forward. ConsciousÉnot afraid! I say that because in the back of your mind, youÕre probably thinking, ÒIf I upset the other 20 kids, theyÕll leave too.Ó I will never advocate making fear-based decisions.

    Interestingly, Jesus faced an almost identical problem in John 6. Look how He handled it. He stuck with His message Ð in a gracious and humble manner Ð but He never backed down. I would suggest you do the same for two reasons. One, thatÕs how Jesus did it! 🙂 Two, that will earn you respect over the long haul. This ties in with what Jonathan said above. YouÕve GOT to have humble leaders who understand their need for mentoring. IÕm 34, with 16 years of ministry experience, and I have mentors! Jonathan has mentors. You probably have mentors (and if thatÕs the case, say that to them to show them youÕre leading your life by the standards you teach). As Jonathan said, this has to be a non-negotiable.

We hope this is a small help.

Keep up the good work Christine!

God Bless,

Jonathan McKee
The Source for Youth Ministry


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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