Reflections of a Former Youth Pastor: Engaging Young People

victor seet strengthsfinder singapore youth pastor reflection on engaging young people

When I first did my StrengthsFinder assessment and saw my full 34 results, I realized that my Maximizer talent theme was pretty strong in my former role as a Youth Pastor in Church of Our Saviour Singapore. The more I felt my strengths were engaged in my work, the more motivated I was to carry on the emotionally draining work of a Youth Pastor. I also had another realization - the way I wanted to be engaged in my work as a Youth Pastor was exactly the same way the youth wanted to be engaged - through their Strengths, or Talent Themes in Strengthsfinder lingo. 

These discoveries led to some personal reflections. One thought stood out, “How do I engage the youth to be the kind of people God wants them to be?” This was the key question that I grappled with, serving as a Youth Pastor in a church in Singapore. This question guided my thoughts on leadership development, organizing training programs, youth camps and outreach programs. To me, this question is the heart of biblical discipleship. 

How do I engage the youth to be the kind of people God wants them to be? I like to share some of my own journey. 

1. Engage the Youth by leveraging their talents

Renowned soccer coach, Jose Mourinho, when asked about managing outrageous talent, said this - "The toughest thing is when you don't have that talent! I never understood when people say that is a problem, or that you can have a special talent but not two or three or four. I want 11 special talents!"

Intuitively, I understood what Jose Mourinho was talking about. There are many youths who are crying out to be engaged today. Many troubled youths have great talents that are not harnessed because of their noticeable character weaknesses. A large number end up leaving the Church. Amongst Christians, it is common knowledge that no one is perfect, except Jesus. The Maximizer in me reckoned that since it is so easy to spot character weaknesses (of which I have no lack), I might as well try to spot talents in order to engage the young people. I decided that if I communicated my belief to the youth and engage them based on their talents or strengths rather than their flaws or weaknesses, they may open up themselves to me and allow me to establish trust with them. 

Since this conviction, the most powerful statement I used in my attempt to engage youths is “I believe in you!”. This phrase is supplemented by the many opportunities I gave to these youth as a Youth Pastor. Roles and responsibilities were offered to them to reinforce the belief I have in these young people. 

That was not without challenges. Most of the time, I chose to go against the conventional approach, i.e. "prove to me you are spiritually mature and you shall be given a role". 

Instead, it was, “I trust you and I believe in you even though you have many flaws. Take on this role, let me walk with you and show me that we can count on each other.” This approach, though extremely challenging and at times heart-breaking, has yielded much fruit. I stand proud, seeing many transformed lives, many of whom have become influential leaders in the church today. They may have started in their roles “judged” by many to be incapable or unsuitable (because of their behaviours or personalities). Yet, they have overcome to become the leaders of the future. One such talented and highly influential youth is ‘Samuel'. Against the odds, he overcame some moral failures in his life, accepted the consequences of church discipline and bounced back stronger. Today, he inspires many younger ones through his life. 

To me, the statement "Be the kind of person God wants you to be" means that the person’s potential must be maximized, fully lived out. After all, it is the Creator who gives us these Talents for a reason. 

2. Leverage on Strengths as a new approach to teamwork. 

As a Youth Pastor, I realized I intuitively sought mature leaders with particular strengths (that complement mine) to build a dynamic and strong Leadership TEAM. I had no doubt that the best team is an all-rounded team, at least in my mind. One of the best memories I have as a Youth Pastor was leading a core team of leaders who started out with little experience; yet each individual capitalized on his/her strengths to serve the team and the whole youth ministry. 

As a Youth Ministry leadership team, we were highly dynamic and deeply connected. Strong in all four domains of leadership, each individual contributes with unique perspectives and talents. The one strong in Responsibility makes sure every program runs smoothly and was strong in following through. The one strong in Woo and Connectedness makes sure every new person was personally known and connected with others. The one strong in Empathy and Developer makes sure the pastoral care and counselling needs were met.

The one strong in Analytical and Harmony highlights key areas of strengths and weaknesses by studying patterns and data for the team to work on. As a leader with the Maximizer talent theme, I leverage on each person’s strengths and draw out their best for the team.  

I am highly convinced that other than the conventional approach of leveraging on skill sets and work experiences to build a strong team performance, there is another approach that is just as powerful - leveraging on each other’s unique Strengths. A strengths-based approach to teamwork and engagement allows for different people to contribute in their own unique and impactful ways. In giving opportunities to do what they do best on a regular basis, individuals are encouraged to continue to use their strengths to serve the church and the community with greater joy and passion. 

3. Own your Strengths journey and lead by example.

One has to realize that leadership is most powerful by example. The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership Model has "Model the Way" as the 1st practice. It is critical that leaders walk the talk and live out their convictions. 

Over the years, I realized that I am poor at receiving criticisms (at least in my mind – my immediate reaction is often poor). Somehow, my facial expression or the “defensive responses” I give to others tend to be a huge turn-off for many wanting to give me feedback. I do suspect that as a Maximizer, who takes pride in being excellent, being told that I am not “good” in something can be very damaging to my confidence. In order to excel as a leader, I started to pray and intentionally seek God to teach me humility. Indeed, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth"!

This ability to accept criticisms and feedback continues to be a key area I hope to grow in. The ongoing journey has been for me to learn to receive feedback with a more open heart. I have discovered that when I receive feedback and advice from others, I also end up validating their strengths which in turn allowed me to leverage from them in increasing measure. 

Ending Note: I have since left this role of Youth Pastor and started Strengths School™ in a new season of my life. But the journey of engaging young people will be one that continues on. "Seeing every generation live out their full potential."