Leadership Styles and Bow Ties

Being between  positions at two different churches this month has given me new perspective on leadership styles. I have always worked (sometimes more successfully than others) to have the ministry of children and youth be a ministry shared among the congregation. I have never wanted to create a personality or staff led culture. Fellow Christian educators know that building a shared ministry can be a challenge. This month has been a gift of having time to look back at how I have created shared ministry in the past and forward to how I might do this better in a  new congregation.

Often the children’s and youth minister is seen as the primary link between the adults and the youth. Youth programming is mostly separate from the adults. The youth minister develops, staffs and sustains the programs that adults want youth to experience. When there is a concern from the youth, the youth minister is the one who relays the information to the council or parents.


In my mind, this model of ministry looks like a bow tie. The youth minister is the knot at the center who links the different ages together. This staff person is seen as one of the professionals who helps the youth to search for God out there, somewhere. Because this is not a shared ministry, if the youth minister, “the KNOT”, leaves, there is little connection left between the two groups in the church. If you want to read more about why this style of ministry is not effective (and how to avoid it), I recommend Mark DeVries’ book Sustainable Youth Ministry.

As I transition to a new church, my hope and prayer is that I do not fall into the role of the KNOT in the center of the bow tie. I envision a network of children, youth and adults who have authentic, faith-nurturing relationships with one another. I see my task is to strengthen those connections through communication, shared experiences, storytelling, education and modeling. Perhaps that looks more like this:


In this simple drawing, I see God not out there, somewhere, but present and active in the work of the Holy Spirit among us in these caring relationships. I see people connecting across generations to love and serve God. This is the visual I carry with me through these transitions. My role is to create opportunities to strengthen and build the links. If you would like to read more about relational models of ministry, I recommend VibrantFaith.org and Organic Student Ministry by Stephen Ingram.

Note: I believe the bow-tie to be my own original way of describing a staff-led model of ministry. I searched the internet to check and did not find any articles linking church leadership with bow-ties. If you have seen this idea elsewhere, please send me a message. I would love to read it. Thank you!

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