Leader OF Leaders OR A Leader WITH Leaders?

Years ago, I sat on the other side of his desk.   I was new, and it was just a few weeks into my new job. I was excited because it would be my first time working in a church with another youth pastor on staff with me. I had been additionally attracted to the position because even though I had been doing youth ministry for a while, my new boss had been doing it much longer. It was an opportunity to learn and be mentored. I had looked forward to doing life together in the trenches with students.

He had sat me down because he wanted to clarify a few things. He leaned back in his chair and then repeated a phrase I often heard from him and others as I grow older and remain in ministry- “We are leaders of leaders.”   He explained that at his age and even at mine at the time (30), youth ministry was not as much about being with students anymore. It was about training and leading others to do that.   He further pointed out that as the numbers grow, we become just “the leader up front.”   He knew I liked students and was called “to students,” but I had to understand that was no longer my job.

The conversation was almost 11 years ago, but the phrase has continued to haunt me. The reason is not just because of that conversation but others I have had as I pass into the second decade of doing youth ministry. If you are a veteran or even a rookie in youth ministry, you need to make a conscious choice about who you are and want to be: 1.) “A Leader OF Leaders” 2.) “A Leader WITH Leaders”.


Understand what I am about to say is not a negative or an attack but rather simply an understanding of your calling and yourself.   As you mature and age in ministry, God can use you greatly in training and equipping others. It is a wonderful and needed thing. Is it, however your primary role, ministry, and calling? You must ask yourself that question.


  • Do you still feel the same excitement with students one-on-one or in smaller group settings? Or do you feel more excitement and energy meeting with other adults doing that?
  • Do you read more books and resources about leading an adult team than leading students?
  • Do others you trust see your giftedness shifting toward training adults rather than teaching young people?
  • Would you prefer to be upfront, speaking and leading, or sitting with students?
  • Is growing a team of leaders who do the work more energizing than growing a team that can do the work alongside you?

I do not want to make a blanket statement for everyone in all situations. Still, there is a difference between being a leader of a team of leaders, training leaders to go and do, and leading students alongside leaders. There are outstanding writers, bloggers, professors, trainers, and yes, even those still actively working on staff at a church that are leaders of leaders. Is that you, or is that where God is leading you?


I struggled a bit over the years of that past ministry mentioned above.   I will admit it. I slowly formed and shaped an outstanding team of leaders in my middle school ministry. I led them, trained them, and built into them. They honestly did the same for me. No matter how great and exciting it was to lead them, my heart still called me back to being with students beside the team.   While the other youth ministry of the church was led from “Up Front,” I continued to choose to lead “Out Front.”   Even now, in a different ministry and larger ministry, as I build a new team, I still feel my role is not to “do as I say” but “do as I do”.

A “Leader WITH Leaders” I would define as someone who chooses to continue to be with both leaders and students in the middle of ministry and life.   Once again, this is not a statement of unfavorable comparison; it is about the discovery of continued calling, longevity, and maturing giftedness.


  • Do you miss being with students during long weeks in the office, or is it a relief to have a break from them?
  • Do you ever find yourself disappointed when volunteer leaders are getting to interact with students?
  • Are you more excited about great small group discussion questions than you are about a tremendous upfront talk planned?
  • Do you still lead a small group of your own?
  • Are you excited about upcoming events because it means you get to have more time to spend alongside your leaders with students?
  • Do you actively model the same expectations and responsibilities that you have for your team?
  • Do you delegate and hand off upfront leadership so that you can be an active participant in ministry?

Is that you; are you the leader that is leading leaders by leading with them?   As you continue in youth ministry and grow older, if that is you–carry on! I know great older men and women of God who are still in the middle of the Dodgeball games, sitting at lunch tables and continuing to do the dirty work of spiritual discipleship.   If you are a leader WITH leaders, do not “grow weary in well doing,” my friend.

Whichever one you are, you are needed! If you are a leader of leaders, thank you for leading, training, and passing on wisdom. If you are a leader with leaders, thank you for your willingness to do life alongside students and leaders.    If you are not sure which one you are or God is calling you to be? Spend time in prayer with trusted friends and consider your leadership gifts. The kingdom needs both.