Shortly before our annual winter retreat, a parent asked me, “Do you need any more chaperones for the winter retreat?”

For a second, I honestly didn’t know what this parent was talking about.

My youth ministry doesn’t have chaperones.

It does, however, have adult leaders.

Adult leaders are actually the backbone of my youth ministry. Without them, we’d cease to function.

This distinction may seem subtle. Perhaps it’s so subtle that it even seems irrelevant.

It’s not.

What we call people matters.

The role of a chaperone is very different from that of a leader.

Chaperones keep people in line. Their job is to make sure that everyone is following the rules. If everything goes as planned, chaperones can manage people from a distance. Unless there’s a problem, they can be relatively hands-off.

Chaperones are supposed to be seen and not heard. They are experts at taking orders from other people but have no authority to solve problems on their own.

In contrast, leaders lead. Leaders don’t just stand to the side unless there’s a problem. Instead, leaders proactively engage teens by asking them questions so that they can get to know them, both inside and outside the walls of the church.

Leaders care for teens by actively listening to their doubts, wrestling with their faith together, serving as spiritual role models, and walking through every facet of life together.

Leaders are empowered. When they see a problem, they have the training and authority to be able to solve it on their own. They are entrusted with the ability to make both small and large decisions.

Leaders serve in a variety of ways – they drive vans, lead Bible studies, provide meals, facilitate small groups, and mentor teens. They serve in both short-term and long-term capacities. They are vital to the health of our youth ministries.

Youth ministries can survive without chaperones. They cannot survive without leaders.

So – no – my youth ministry doesn’t need any chaperones.

We do, however, always need caring adult leaders.