Follow Me

When most of us think of Young Life, we think of a person. We think of a person who embodies the Young Life experience for us. That's by design. Jim Rayburn began Young Life to introduce kids to "the most wonderful, most attractive, most gracious, most loving person the world has ever seen." Likewise, the development of leaders within Young Life is a deeply personal undertaking, replete with touch points of "life-on-life" training, and not primarily a process defined by programs and procedure.

At its best, leadership development in Young Life models what Jesus did when He launched his earthly ministry. "His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with the men whom the multitudes would follow" (Robert E. Coleman in the Master Plan of Evangelism, 1963). So too, most Young Life leaders, including the 3,330 staff members and the 21,000 leaders who volunteer their time, have been loved into "followship." Their leadership is the result of intentional love of another leader, more accurately, another follower of Christ. In response, they've followed Christ into a world of kids within their reach.

Ministry mathematics

Meeting the thousands of kids in our reach, however, is an insurmountable task for staff alone. Sean McGever, leader and area director in Paradise Valley in northeast Phoenix, has done the math. For Young Life to effectively reach the 20,000 kids in his communities with paid staff, he'd need to employ 1,800 people.

There are only two problems with the equation as McGever sees it. It's not sustainable, or biblical. "We've got to focus on the few who will reach the multitudes." And this is the essence of multiplied ministry.

Imagine a club of 20,000. It'd be great, right? Pete Hardesty, leader and area director in Harrisonburg, Va., would ask you to think bigger. Imagine running a Young Life club every night of the year with 1,000 new kids professing faith each night. That'd be exciting. And newsworthy. But it would take you thousands of years (and supernatural genetics) to reach the world for Christ using that model of ministry by addition. And it wouldn't be Young Life.

Imagine instead, a leader or a Campaigner kid earning the right to share the Gospel with a friend. Think of that student introducing another friend to Christ. In this scenario of ministry by multiplication, the world could meet Christ in little more than 32 years.

"I'm still staggered by those numbers," said Hardesty, who heard the example from a professor of economics. "The quiet work of a multiplier gets much less notice, but it proves to be far more effective. And it's what Jesus did. He ministered to the masses, but he invested in the few — the friends who were his disciples." That is what staff members around the mission do. They raise up leaders, the vast majority unpaid, who show kids how they, too, can be disciple-makers.

Disciple-making starts early

Rick Scherr, leader and area director in Northern Kentucky, considers disciple-making an easy concept. "Discipleship is just friendship with a vision. Jesus didn't ask us to make converts," Scherr said. "He asked us to make disciples. If we develop a real friendship with a kid then we must have a vision for the disciple-maker they can become in the world."

A leader's vision for their kids goes beyond the high school experience. "Can we love kids until they're 18 and then forget about them?" Rob "Crock" Crocker, former director of Ohio's Buckeye Region, doesn't think so. For him, leadership development starts early, as early as their freshman year, and doesn't end there. Crocker, now senior area director in the Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina, says "we ask kids to reach their friends first, and then look to their peer group. And we encourage and equip some to reach into the middle schools through WyldLife. By the time these high school kids get to college, they're already leaders."

Home grown and deeply rooted

Some may consider Crocker's former region, surrounding The Ohio State University campus, the ideal place to recruit leaders. But leaders emerge from high school campuses as well as college campuses; it just may take a little longer.

In Scherr's area (part of the Buckeye Region), there aren't large college campuses nearby to draw from. All but one of his leaders were once kids in his clubs. Twelve years ago, Scherr was the only staff member and leader in his area. Today, he is still the only staff member and his leadership team of 69 runs 17 clubs. Leaders include 14 married couples and four families with small children. They are teachers, business owners, moms and administrators. Technically, they are volunteers, but Scherr calls them missionaries, doing life together for the sake of lost kids. They spend every Friday night together in Scherr's home, built expressly with a large basement and ample parking to host all 69 and their families for weekly leadership meetings.

"These leaders are our best friends, not extra friends on the fringe of our life. They are active partners in the Gospel with us." Scherr says he asks his leaders not to water-ski through life, but to dive deep in one place to discover the riches there. Leaders are asked to limit volunteering to Young Life, and to "move into the neighborhood" (John 1:14, The Message), living near the campuses they serve.

Kevin and Kayla Warnick and Guy and Andrea Domec have done just that. These one-time Young Life kids in Scherr's Connor High School club now live and lead clubs in communities near their hometown. Kevin Warnick has no regrets about their commitment. "There is nothing I'd rather do, or could do with my life but ministry and making disciples; and Young Life works — it reaches those who I can completely relate to, because I was once in their shoes."

Andrea Domec's experience is similar. Serving as a junior leader at Rockbridge during her senior year in high school was all she needed to recognize a call on her life. "There is something so sweet about being vulnerable with my friends and I knew that I wanted to be a Young Life leader and give my life away to high school students. After prayer, I felt that God had affirmed my decision and here I am, almost 10 years later, still a Young Life leader."

The end of myself

The Warnicks and Domecs, and leaders like them, are the lifeblood of the mission. Young Life leader "developers" have learned through experience that ministry can't be done alone. Pete Hardesty said it was an epiphany when he understood that. When, as he said, "I got to the end of myself."

"If I'd paid attention to Scripture and other leaders, I'd have understood, but I had to get to the end of myself before I really got it. Do I have more experience than my leaders? Maybe. But each of them can do things I can't. Each one is uniquely called and qualified to reach kids I won't."

Sean McGever understands the value and necessity of shared leadership. He constantly asks himself, "Am I stealing a ministry opportunity from a leader?" Years ago, under the tutelage of his senior leader Marty Caldwell, now a senior vice president for Young Life's international ministry, McGever was asked to lead in important times and places. "Marty's a legend. He was always better than I was, but yet, he'd ask me to give key club talks. I'll never forget that."

Mirrors and crowns

So much of leadership development is holding a mirror up to a leader, helping him or her see the gifts that others see. Pat Goodman, a mission training associate, would say just as often it means holding a crown over a leader's head and letting him or her grow into it. "People grow into the crown when we help them see what Christ can do in them, often what they can't imagine for themselves," Goodman said.

A crown is an apropos image for Young Life leaders, the majority of whom are unpaid. They are "amateurs" in the oldest and truest sense of the word; a word which literally means "a lover of, a devotee." Like Olympians who once received crowns for their courageous efforts as lovers of their sport. So many Young Life leaders make a living in varied fields of endeavor, and a life by giving their own away to kids, for the sake of the Gospel and a crown that will not perish, all because someone once said to them, "Follow me."