7 Ways to lead people who are older than you – on LeadAnyone

I first wrote this for the excellent blog, leadanyone.com early last year. However, with the new term approaching and lots of youth workers changing and starting new jobs, I thought it might be some timely help to someone. You can read the original here.
“Who on earth does this kid think he is?” This, I am sure, was the overall impression I left on people during my first year as a full-time minister.

Fresh out of seminary and ready to take on the world, I was going to teach these older generations a thing or two – and I made sure they knew it! Needless to say I failed pretty miserably, left a wake of distrust behind me and ensured a consistent undercurrent of defensiveness in my meetings. Bummer.

Learning to manage the older generations in your team is absolutely vital! Not only does it properly respect the formula for united and diverse ministry laid out in 1 Corinthians 12, but it also makes everyone’s life easier and your projects much more effective.

These seven tips for how to lead older team members boil down to three simple principles: value, trust and communication. You must consistently show that you genuinely value everybody’s input. You must cultivate a culture of mutual trust and respect. You must communicate clearly on several levels to make sure everybody is on board. Let’s unpack the tips more thoroughly:

1. Make the right first impression

Experts claim that between thirty seconds and two minutes is all the time people take to form a lasting impression of someone. I’m not sure if this is true, but it’s a pretty scary idea. However long it actually takes, the principal remains the same: we need to start off on the right foot.

You should not come across immediately as ‘the boss.’ Instead be humble, ask lots of questions, show genuine interest and make simple friendly gestures. If you come across from the start as open, friendly, and easy to talk to, it will set the stage for all of your interactions when managing people later.

2. Get to know them personally

It’s important to know team members, and particularly older team members, personally outside of your meetings. It gives you the proper room to talk and share together and it builds trust.

Take them out for coffee, accept their invitations to dinner, join them on rambles and meet their families. Take time to understand their background and history, delve into their experience and allow them to tell you their stories. It will be far more interesting and edifying than you might think!

Also, be open and genuine with them. Allow aspects of your vulnerability to come through, and especially be reasonably honest about your nervousness as a young leader. This is a great opportunity for you to show your trust in them, and to reach out to their wisdom.

3. Metacognate

Isn’t that just a fantastic word? It literally means to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – and doing so for your older members will be an illuminating thought experiment!

Consider that when you’re in your 20s and 30s you are still trying to understand what your life will stand for. When you get to your 40s and 50s, focus switches to your family’s legacies, and your fears surround comparing yourself to your peers. In your 60s and 70s you look back more and ask questions about your value, the impact you left behind and whether you mattered.

Try to imagine what it’s like to live with those different perspectives and fears. Empathise with them and be sympathetic in how you manage.

4. Listen actively and communicate clearly

Active listening is intentional. When it comes to the older generations you need to ask lots of questions, listen carefully to their responses, and remember the stories they tell you. Just smiling and nodding doesn’t work if you can’t recall the information and apply it later. This means you should observe carefully and watch before you make any major changes or start any revolutions. You want to bring people with you, and that requires responding to who they really are.

Listening shows that you are willing to be a learner and are obviously teachable. Teachable leaders are always the best team managers as they are able to incorporate people’s differing perspectives while helping them feel valued at the same time. One of the best ways you can do this is to ask for their feedback specifically and consistently.

In meetings, you should give lots of room for expression and clearly acknowledge the points made. However if you want to push a change or new project though, then it is vital that you first meet with members individually. This prepares them for change and also allows you to get their feedback and hear their thoughts before you bring it to a public meeting.

Finally make sure you communicate on many levels. It’s not enough to simply say “well I copied you into that email” or “I tweeted with the hashtag I told you to follow.” Everything you want others to know should be communicated through at least three different mediums. You’ll know you’ve done it right if you get feedback.

5. Embrace their perspectives

One of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever learned is that I’m not actually right all the time. Annoyingly. When it comes to running a successful project, you need to embrace a whole range of different perspectives on learning styles, and these will not all come from you. Shock-horror.

We need to respect tradition and blend old and new approaches when working with Church projects. You’ll find that having a blend of age perspectives will cover a much broader spectrum that includes learning styles and personality types as well.

Be adaptable therefore, and see older team members as part of the solution and not a roadblock to progress. Recognise their wisdom and abilities genuinely and seek ways to apply them specifically. On a side note; do this without grovelling insincerely – they’re old enough to see through you!

Finally, consider a mentoring program where the main intention is to actively encourage older team members to mentor and coach younger members. This will expose everyone to more perspectives while increasing the value you show to older generations.

6. Cultivate the right environment

The meetings and interactions that you have with your team should consistently cultivate a safe, secure, friendly, open and compassionate environment. Don’t hide from conflict and don’t engage in gossip – however vulnerable you might feel.

Recognise the different needs and working styles that older generations might have, responding with specific assurances and opportunities. Try to provide training, especially on things like technology, so that everyone is on equal footing no matter their background.

7. Be a leader

With all the listening, assurances, and vulnerability you could be forgiven for thinking that you shouldn’t actually lead. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Everyone in your team – including older generations – are expecting you to be solid, making decisions, resolving conflict, and setting tone and direction. Don’t feel embarrassed or inappropriately unworthy about the position God has called you to. Seek consistent respect rather than constant approval. Paul’s advice to young leader Timothy on how to lead older teams is simply this, ‘don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, rather set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.’

You should not, however, come across as autocratic or overly authoritarian. It’s possible to make your expectations clear without lording it over people – any episode of The Apprentice can tell you that!

So stand firm and resist intimidation – but do so respectfully.

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

What has Star Wars got to do with youth and children’s work? – On YCW Blog

First published on Premier Youth and Children’s Work Blog here.

As a classically trained Anglican, it’s very hard for me to hear “may the Force be with you” without then mumbling back in dulcet tones, “and also with you.” During chapel services it is even harder to refrain from humming the ‘Imperial March’ theme as the morning’s robed service leaders processed into the room. Its Star Wars though – how can we resist?

The ceiling of my car has been refinished with a Star Wars duvet, I go to work with a tin Jabba the Hutt lunchbox, and sat next to my bed is a full size BB8 replica. Safe to sayI love Star Wars! To celebrate six years working for Youth for Christ in 2017 my trustees even bought me tickets to The Last Jedi premiere.

Everything is a wookie!

As much as I hate to admit it though, I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan in our office. My administrator can quote the comics verbatim, one of my volunteers is rarely seen outside her favourite Star Wars t-shirts and one of our project leaders does an impeccable Chewbacca impression.

When I say this impression is perfect – I mean it. He gets the growly lead-in, a precise wookie pop and an almost cute-if-not-freakish exit. It comes with vocabulary, and always matches the emotional temperature of room. It’s impressive. Or it was impressive until I recently discovered just how many things sound like a wookie!

Dragging chairs across a tiled floor sounds like a wookie, pulling loo roll out of plastic holders sounds like a wookie, opening drawers sounds like a wookie, flushing an old toilet sounds like a wookie. Everything sounds like a wookie! In my book, this means my team member needs to find a new skill.

The art of imitation

In the youth and children’s work world I think we’re very good at impressions. We know just how to imitate things in young people’s culture. Even down to catchphrases and dress codes, we know how to look like we belong in their world.

We read the right magazines, play the proper games, take the suitable selfies, listen to the appropriate music and binge-watch the requisite boxsets. We even know what’s going to be a thing before its thing – we were all over fidget spinners before they even finished their first rotation!

We do this for the sake of relevancy. We want to know the culture and move in the right circles all for the sake of being ‘relevant’ to those within them.

Relevancy versus authenticity

At this point red spinning sirens should be going off: Danger! Danger! Imitation for the sake of relevancy is by its very nature inauthentic. If it was the real deal, then it wouldn’t be an impression. Milton Jones doesn’t do impressions of Milton Jones, and Andy Serkis doesn’t imitate Gollum like the rest of us (painfully) try to do.

I think there are three problems with trying to imitate youth and children’s culture for the sake of relevancy.

For starters, youth culture changes every ten minutes, so our ministry will have a shelf life and will need to change shape multiple times a year. It’s really hard for something to gain an identity if it is perpetually altering itself to fit cultural whims.

There’s no such thing as youth culture anyway. Young people don’t get together in a room once a year and decide what’s going to be a thing. There is as much variety in ‘their’ world as there is in ‘ours’. So trying to connect with what we think is their de factoculture will inevitably alienate some young people.

Plus it’s just creepy! I’m a 31-year-old man, not a 16-year-old girl. When I try to be the latter, I get odd looks, and I should! It’s just weird if I try to pretend that I’m still in that age-bracket. We’re the Solo’s, Kenobi’s, and even the Yoda’s of this story, not Anakin’s slightly awkward hormonal mates.

An impressive impression doesn’t necessarily make us relevant, and it really doesn’t make us authentic.

Should we give up on relevancy?

Nope!

It’s fine to be aware of what’s going on in their world, and even still enjoy a few things in it. It’s helpful to know what issues they face in their culture, and to speak with references they’ll relate to. But we also have to bear in mind that it’s their world, and not ours.

Instead – let’s reach for authenticity. Let’s be ourselves with young people. Let’s be good listeners, ask lots of questions and let them show us new things. Let’s give them value and responsibility from an adult position. They’ll appreciate that authenticity, and it will be far more relevant than just yelling “wookie” every thirty seconds.

Star Wars Lego – the perfect marriage

Next to my desk is the Lego Millennium Falcon. This thing is amazing! It has 1,392 pieces, a 160-page instruction book, and comes with its own Chewbacca mini-figure. It was also a ridiculous beast of a build. It took eight whole hours to painstakingly assemble, and for seven of those hours, it looked like nothing more than a roundish, grey husk.

However, in the last hour it finally took the form of the legendary vessel that made the Kessel Run in fourteen parsecs.

It’s not always pretty, but most of our work with young people should be laying solid foundations, building a strong identity in God’s Word, and committing to a manageable number of developing relationships. Relevancy will come naturally as a result of that authenticity. Build it right and they’ll come! Be authentic and they will stay.

Youth Ministry that’s Genuinely Relevant without Faking It

Last week I had the privilege of writing this for the IVP blog. Check out the original online here.

There’s a classic episode of The Simpsons where Ned Flanders, the show’s exorbitantly cheesy Christian stereotype, runs a Bible study in his home. The group has one teenager – an air-headed bully called Jimbo. In order to keep the study relevant to Jimbo, Ned keeps throwing in techy terms, ‘Now let us download the holy tweet of the Lord!’ When Jimbo begins to get bored and heads for the door, Ned yells desperately, ‘Mousepad! Double-click! Skype! Skype!’ Anything to give off the pseudo air of relevancy.

Relevancy is one of those magic words that we youth workers love to throw into our strategy statements and mission plans! Relevancy is as relevancy does though. On the one hand, relevancy genuinely can help us connect with young people at a deeper and more meaningful level. It can create a bridge into their world and smooth the path of the Gospel into their lives. On the other hand – as Ned established – relevancy can also become simply a disjointed and awkward attempt to look trendy and fashionable without any real depth. What makes the difference

Authentic Relevancy

A couple of years ago I knew an elderly gentleman who, before he passed away, rode the bus every morning when the teenagers got on for school. He struck up conversations with them, told them about Jesus, and somehow had them hanging on his every word. It was incredible! He was doing my job – in his eighties – better than I do it! This was more than a little humbling. The thing is that he wasn’t trendy, he wasn’t tuned in to their music, books, or box sets, and he wouldn’t know what a ‘skype’ was if you whacked him around the head with a webcam. What he was though was incredibly authentic.

Authenticity is what makes relevancy real. Authenticity is the magic ingredient that creates a connection with people who are different to us. Authenticity is what actually makes us relevant. This elderly chap would listen actively and intently, he would show genuine compassion, he would remember names, make eye contact, and be honestly interested. It didn’t matter one bit that he didn’t know who Chris Pratt or Kanye West was. He was authentic. He liked them, and they liked him. He was authentic – so he was relevant.

Getting on Trend without Being on Trend

It’s not that understanding teenage culture or following what’s ‘on trend’ is a bad thing. Of course it’s good to know, understand, and engage with what’s happening in their world. It’s healthy to be able to speak into the activities they’re committed to and the media they’re consuming.

It is their world though – and when we come off as being as much in it as they are we kill authenticity dead. Teenagers are super smart, and they can smell a rat a mile away! If we try to understand their world by being in it as much as they are – buying the same things, dressing the same way, watching all the same shows – then it’ll just end up weird. A little knowledge and some common ground is great, but it’s not what makes us genuinely relevant.

Cultivating Authenticity

Authentic people engage with teenagers in meaningful and lasting ways. Let’s prioritise authenticity. So, what makes us this kind of authentic?

• Active listeners are authentic
• Honest and transparent storytellers are authentic
• Humble people are authentic
• Compassionate and interested adults are authentic
• Those who generously give time are authentic
• Those who set consistent and healthy boundaries are authentic
• Those who cultivate thankful spirits are authentic
• Content people who trust God for what they need are authentic
• People who create situations for multiple voices to be heard are authentic
• Those who ask good questions, yet don’t have all the answers are authentic
• Those who talk clearly, and unapologetically from the Bible are authentic
• Those who mention Jesus; His life, death and resurrection are authentic

And these authentic people are genuinely relevant! Trying to understand culture without understanding the things above will leave you as a desperate square peg, forever jamming yourself into a round hole. Irrelevant!

I recently got my hands on a copy of Jessie Faerber’s new book More Than Just Pretty, and it’s a great example of what I’m talking about. More Than Just Pretty is a book that connects with the genuine struggles and ambitions of young girls in a solidly relevant way. It’s relevant because it’s authentic. You get the feeling as you read it that Faerber has really been there, and can empathise with girls while simultaneously giving permission for them to be so much more than what culture expects. She’s authentic – so her message is relevant! With my own book on the Bible and youth ministry, ‘Rebooted’, coming out in September, I hope that I come across with even half the authenticity that Jesse does!

With the Jimbo-generation in our projects, let’s not cheapen their experience of Christians by Ned Flandering all over them; ‘skype! Skype!’ Instead let’s be compassionate, interested, actively-listening adults who share with them authentically. Then we and our youth ministries will be truly relevant!

Interview on The Youth Workshop Podcast

It was great to speak to Luke Whyte on his podcast ‘The Youth Worshop’ about the future of youth work, developing teams, the place of the church, and knowing our Bibles.

**Check it out here**

**Or listen and subscribe on itunes here**

Working With Introverted Young People

A few months ago I appeared on the fantastic youth ministry podcast ‘The Longer Haul‘ to talk about ministering to introverted students. This is an issue that keeps coming up, and I think represents one of the fundamental missteps youth ministry can take.

For those of us who prefer reading to listening, I’ve taken some of my key thoughts from the podcast and written them up here as notes. Enjoy!

The Extrovert Epidemic

Much of our youth ministry is focused towards the extrovert. This follows a cultural pattern of being extrovert-driven too. Our school rooms and classes, for instance, are geared towards controlling and regulating the extrovert by putting them in rows, or engaging and energising the extrovert by pushing group discussions and activities. Also, modern offices are moving towards more open plan layouts, instantaneous planning sessions, and group enterprises.

In youth work we’re very adept at running youth work projects and particularity events; “everybody jump or I’ll squirt you with this water pistol!” But it even exists in our naturally quieter, small group ministry, “everybody go round and tell us something interesting about yourself.”

This creates a subliminal constant message that the introvert is not as able as the extrovert.

Jody pointed out in the interview that often youth ministries take on the character of their leader. Very true! There are of course many extroverted youth workers, especially new or younger youth workers, as extroversion is not necessarily the best ingredient for longevity. Introverts more naturally allow their teams to outgrow them, run with ideas and create a space and flavour that reflects more than one person. Introverts often create safer boundaries, develop more realistic goals and allow more open dialogue for change.

Extroverts may need to learn this behaviour, as they are often the charismatic force that drives content, holding ideas close, while not always delegating effectively. This of course is not always true, but the intro-extroversion line seems to me to be a key player.

I believe that youth ministry models and strategies, on a whole, tend to lean towards the extrovert. It certainly seems, at least, that developing extroverts in youth work is more well-established. So we will attempt here to bring in some balance, by developing specific ideas for developing introverts.

What Is An Introvert?

We often hear introversion linked with shyness, and extroversion with boldness. Although there can be links, it doesn’t take more than an amateur pop psychologist to tell you that this is a false assumption to make all the time. You can easily by a shy extrovert or an outgoing introvert.

I think about introverts using two sides of a coin. On one side is ‘how are they energised’ and on the other, ‘how do they process information.’

Energy?

An extrovert is energised by social stimulus in various forms (what kind depends on the extrovert), whereas the introvert tends to be drained by that. Both might enjoy going to a party, but while the extrovert may come back energised – like they have received from it, the introvert might want some down time – feeling like they have given out.

Information?

An extrovert tends to process verbally. When responding to a question they start speaking, showing their working until they get to an answer – you see the process and various types of responses and working out along with perhaps several answers. This is why extroverts are sometimes seen as rude through impatience. An introvert processes internally. They stop, think for a minute about what the question means, what else it could mean, what they know, how an answer could sound, how else it could be phrased etc. This happens internally an is why introverts are sometimes seen as rude through withdrawal.

This also might be why we as youth leaders subliminally prefer talking to extroverts. They provide more real time feedback on the conversation without looking like they are glazing over. It’s too easy to assume that the introvert is angry at us, or just bored or afraid when they are 1. giving us energy just by being there and 2. internally processing.

Bring It Together

When you put the energy (down time, reflective, away from most social stimuli) and the process (internal, cognitive) together you get your introvert.

It is of course very possible to be an internally processing extrovert, or an introvert who is energised by carefully cultivated social times. Just one of the reasons we shouldn’t be too prescriptive with any of this!

5 Principles For Introverted Youth Ministry

Jody pointed out that you will need both introverts and extroverts on your team to reach a diverse group. He’s bang on the money again, and we will now talk about putting some principles in place to get the most out of exactly this kind of team. Both introverts and extroverts will need to learn new habits and develop a wider awareness and tolerance, which, if trained and led well, will lead to quality, long-lasting youth ministry!

This requires more than just giving introverts space, as the extrovert will be tempted to fill any space that you give. This needs a rethink of our models to develop introverts intentionally and consistently alongside extroverts. Hopefully these 5 principles will be a good start to this process.

1. Stop using the word ‘everybody’

“Everybody get up and jump!”

“Everybody stand up and stay something about yourself!”

That little word ‘everybody’ can send fear right down the spine of the introverted young person, especially if you give them no time to think and process first. Look instead for inclusive but not expected phases that create safe opt-out spaces in your programs and sessions which allow young people to not engage with aspects of the activities without just dropping off the face of the planet.

2. Look For Ways To Show Value

Introverts (like all of us) need to know they are valued for who they actually are, not what an extroverted-youth-programs make them think they should be. One of the best ways to do this is to develop active listening skills. That’s listening which holds eye contact, makes affirming relevant gestures, repeats back what was said, and develops their side of the conversation over yours.

This is essential when they make a contribution to the group. You need to point to it clearly showing that you have understood their intentions and believe that it is valuable. This is something they will go away and process and become part of their historic experience with you – that you are someone who values them within their identity.

3. Stop, Look, Listen

It’s sometimes easier to spot the behaviours of the extrovert, which tend to carry less subtly in a group. We need to be watching the introverts, noticing what they do, and pointing to it. It’s all too easy to look through the introvert to the active extrovert behind them. Take the time to be with them certainly, but notice them when you’re not. We need to be present to and with our introverted young people consistently.

Be a youth leader who sees, hears and notices. Then names it.

4. Create Opt-Out Spaces

Similar to stop using the word ‘everybody’ this is about creating re-energising, processing times and spaces for the introvert. Make space for young people not to be part of everything. This will need some rethinking of our models.

Assuming that all your young people will equally want to do all activities is one thing, but forcing an introvert into a highly uncomfortable extrovert game is going to create a fight or flight response that’s going to be hard to forget – or forgive. So ‘up front’ games and questions should be voluntary – not pointing and naming. Group games and activities should be designed so they are easy to jump in and out of too. Ice-breakers should be easy enough to pass on too. It should be enough to say “I’m Tim, hi!” without having to then go on to explain my 14 favourite types of spatula… unless of course I want to!

This works for spaces too. Youth rooms tend to be noisy and busy, the layout is activity-driven. So having spaces that work for the introvert is a must. We have a ‘quiet room’ in our group setup with head-phoned music, books, colouring, beanbags and simple games. Conversation in their is kept to a minimum.

This is essential because a big fear for the introvert is letting people down;

“If I don’t participate, I’ll let my team down.”

“If I don’t say something, then I’ll let the leader down.”

These times and spaces should be intentional expectations for the fabric of the group – so rather than ‘letting us down’ they are participating in how the group is supposed to work.

5. Cultivate A Culture Of Conversation

Introverts can be incredibly creative and intelligent, and can be amazing conversational partners. In our youth ministry programs, however, sometimes the only time we give to conversation is before or afterwards, or during the break. This is not intentional conversation.

Developing real intentional conversation within our programs needs us to dramatically rethink the content. During one of our groups ‘Redefine’ we make sure every element (talks, prayer, worship, games) each has a give and take philosophy. Talks and teaching always encourage interruptions, we regularly run Q&A, and we put music up on the screen so they can bring their own instruments with them. Everything invites them to participate and add to the conversation. We also run TED nights where they bring their own talks and teaching.

Developing this as a culture – so a regular part of what you do – actually creates a lot more safety and sure-footing for the introvert as well as some healthy engagement for the extrovert. It’s win-win.

Find Out More

This is just the cliff notes of a great 50 minute conversation with Jody. Check out the whole thing at The Longer Haul here. Or on the iTunes podcast here.

This is an ongoing conversation – if you’ve got anything to add, please get in touch, or comment below. 🙂

Also – check out Chloe’s awesome comics on ‘Things Introverts In Your Youth Group HATE!”

Tim’s Interview on ‘The Longer Haul’ – Ministering To Introverted Students

It was great to be invited to interview by Jody Livingston of ‘The Longer Haul.’ This is an epic American podcast, blog and website offering fantastic and solid advice to youth workers wanting to go all the way. Take time to check it out!

My interview was all about reaching out to introverted young people, and adapting our youth ministry models to help introverts engage.

Check out the post here.

Or check it out on itunes here.

When Job shows up at your youth group – on @youthworkmag

Great to have a post on Premier Youthwork Blog this week. This time on working with tragedy in our youth groups – when ‘Job’ appears.

Check it out here: http://www.premieryouthwork.com/Read/The-Youthwork-Blog/Young-people-as-Bible-characters-Job?l

For other posts I’ve written for Premier Youthwork Blog, have a look here.

Engaging high-achieving young people on @youthworkmag

Great to have a post on Premier Youthwork Blog this week.

Check it out here: http://www.premieryouthwork.com/Read/The-Youthwork-Blog/Engaging-high-achieving-young-people

How To Get Young People To Read The Bible For Themselves

Great to have another post on Premier Youthwork blog this week. This time on how to get young people to read the Bib;e for themselves.

Check it out here. http://www.premieryouthwork.com/Read/The-Youthwork-Blog/How-to-get-young-people-to-read-the-Bible-for-themselves

7 Ways To Lead People Older Than You – on Leadanyone.com

A wee while back, I was approached to write a couple of articles of Leadanyone.com by it’s founder Joel Preston. The whole site is full of quality articles and I would heartily recommend it to you.

The first of my articles went up online, and you can read it here. It’s a simple set of tools used to evaluate objectively your ministry projects. I hope that it’s helpful!