Five Questions with Timothy Eldred

Read this brief article first: Five Questions with Timothy Eldred | Youth Specialties. Then read my reaction and commentary.

I just read this article on YS and was hit with this statement: “Never do anything for a young person they can learn to do for themselves, and young people can make the same commitment to follow Jesus Christ as an adult.”

I am in full agreement with the second part of Eldred’s statement, but the first has me scratching my head a bit. I find it intriguing, but I also am asking myself if this is true the way that he and Endeavor (Eldred’s organization in Michigan) believe this so profoundly and if it has been working for them for the last 129 years, then why haven’t I come across the concept before? Why wasn’t this a part of any of my youth ministry classes in college? Why have I not tried this approach? It’s not revolutionary. It’s merely the logical end of the idea of integrating student leadership into a youth ministry. Instead of mini-leaders or assistants, the students become the primary leaders of regular programming, both upfront and behind the scenes.

I lied to you a second ago. I said that this is not revolutionary. It is. It is the logical end of the student leadership concept, but it is terrifyingly revolutionary. I am reminded of the late great Mike Yaconelli and his concept of messy spirituality (the concept within the book of that title which you need to read if you haven’t already). Placing this amount of responsibility and authority in the hands of high school students, and dare I think it – middle school students(!), would be messy indeed!

If this model of ministry is to be embraced, then the church (or organization) must be committed to it’s success from the onset as success may not be quick or apparent as adults adjust to their new support roles and students adjust to being the leaders. Students leading worship, Bible studies, giving messages, etc will be unpolished and must be given encouragement, support, and freedom to fail. They may say the wrong thing, misinterpret a text, use a terrible illustration, be awkward, and much more.

I think that those drawbacks (not risks, as they are sure to happen) are worth the exploration of this concept in integrating it within the current framework of the ministry. I don’t know that adults should never speak or pray or lead. We need to be good examples to our students and I don’t like the idea of relegating myself to a coach and supporter only. That said, I also believe that there is great merit here and that this could be the best way for students to grow and for the group of students to take ownership of the ministry in ways that will be conducive to their making it a priority in life and I think that it will, as Eldred says, foster students being committed members of churches beyond high school and throughout life. And that is the ultimate goal of youth ministry: to create lifelong disciples of Christ.


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