It’s all about situational leadership this week. Yesterday I gave an overview of what situational leadership is all about and we concluded that there were four categories of followers, each with a corresponding leadership style. In the four upcoming posts, we’ll see how each of the four categories of the situational leadership theory applies to realities in youth ministry. Today’s category is a tough one: low commitment and low competence. In normal English: people who are unwilling and unable.

When volunteers are unwilling and unable

What to do in youth ministry with people who are unable and unwilling? If they’re volunteers: get rid of them. Really. I don’t care what skills volunteers have, because you can teach them things and if they’re highly motivated, they will learn. But people who aren’t enthusiastic to be serving in youth ministry and don’t have the skills? They should leave. As in right away. Because people who are unmotivated and unskilled cause more harm than you can repair. They hurt the students, they can have a crippling effect on your team and your whole ministry and they cost you more time than you can afford.

If you have a volunteer that’s constantly giving you trouble, ask yourself this question: is this person motivated to work in youth ministry? Do you see a passion for teens, a love for students? If not, you need to have a serious conversation with him or her. But then ask yourself this: do they have the skills? If they do, there’s another route that you can take and we’ll discuss that one the day after tomorrow (low commitment, high competence). If you conclude that someone is both unable and unwilling, you need to ask that person to leave youth ministry and find something else to do. Discuss it with love, but be firm and clear. Offer to assist in finding something else to do if necessary. But don’t waste any more of your precious energy and time on someone who has no place in youth ministry.


When youth is unwilling and unable

If your youth ministry is any like the ones I’ve experienced, you will come across this version far more often. It can be quite hard to convince teens to do something, to get them motivated and enthusiastic. And unlike volunteers who are unwilling and unable, you can’t and shouldn’t get rid of these teens. So how do you deal with them?

According to the theory of situational leadership, the corresponding leadership style is directive, which means that if you are working with them, you have to give very clear instructions on what they need to do. You’ll need to be specific: what needs to be done, when does it need to be finished, how should they do it and what constraints are there (think of materials, budget, etc). You’ll do well to avoid much room for misunderstandings in any way. Be very careful to give students in this category any kind of responsibility, for there’s a chance they will abuse your trust.

How to change teens in this category

That doesn’t mean that that’s it, that there is nothing else you can do with teens who are unwilling and unable. First of all, you should never stop trying to get them involved. Even when they’re unmotivated and unwilling and you sort of press them into ‘service’, they might just get something out of it that will help them further. I once kind of talked a teen into helping me with something that way and he got such positive feedback from the group (even though he did the absolute minimum that I asked him) that he volunteered to help again. So that’s definitely something you can hope and pray for.

You can also take a more active role, by trying to find out which of the two is the strongest resisting factor: the lack of motivation or the lack of skills. Then try and make some careful progress in the area where you feel resistance is a little less. Often, a personal approach is key here. You’ll need to invest time in the student, get to know him or her and find out what’s going on in his or her life. Then see if you can find any ‘in’. It will probably come in small baby steps, but you just might be able to get them to change in one or even both areas. I’ve had wonderful student volunteers who started out that way!

Have you ever had experience with volunteers or teens in this category? How did you handle this?