Ah, leadership. Leaders. Liderazgo. It’s a great subject. But what are some qualities of effective leaders in youth missions? Let me give you one.

The first quality of leadership that I believe is essential to effective Youth Missions Leadership is to learn as much as you can about the context and culture. Rosabeth Moss Kantor siad, “Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach.” It’s true. You can lead people much farther if you strive first to understand them.

You cannot lead if you do not understand the culture and context of those with whom you are working. The first thing you must do as a leader anywhere, but especially in missions, is try to understand the situation. If you cannot spend time observing the culture and the people, you will find it difficult to lead them.

The fact that you have a position of leadership does not mean that you are a leader. You may arrive to a situation with the title of leader, but that does not mean they will see you as a leader. Sure, in many cultures, they will hold you up on a pedestal simply because of your title. But to win the respect of the people you wish to lead, you must first try to understand them.

Before I went to Mexico, I did as much as I could to try to understand the culture and context. I read books about culture and history, talked to people, and tried my best to understand the context of youth ministry in Mexico. There is still a lot I don’t understand about Mexican culture, but I feel that this time of learning (that continues today) has helped me in the ministry.

So, here are some tips for learning the context and culture:

  1. Read all you can about the culture.
  2. The first few months (first year if you can), don’t do ministry. Just observe. That doesn’t mean you aren’t ministering. You just aren’t participating in a formal ministry.
  3. Ask lots of questions about the culture (family, history, language, way of doing things, relationships).
  4. Spend real time with real people. Watch how they interact with each other.
  5. Write down your observations.

This is part of a series on leadership for Youth Emphasis Week at Southern Seminary.