Innovative Leadership in Youth Ministry


By Andrew Esqueda

Not too long ago I started reading a book on leadership called Originals, by Adam Grant. It’s not a book on Christian leadership or models of ministry it’s simply a book by an expert in the field of leadership. The basic thesis of the book is that in the world of leadership, business, and entrepreneurship, those who are “originals” are the ones who succeed. Their originality isn’t something grandiose that they invented, but rather, original takes on ideas and systems already in place.

Reading this book made me think more and more about leadership, innovation, and originality in the church, and what it might look like in my youth ministry. I used to have this idea that I needed to do something crazy and creative all the time to show my leadership skills and innovation not only to my students, but to the church as a whole. It became exhausting for me, and frankly, I don’t think I’m that creative or innovative. However, I know a ton of people who are, and I have a ton of students who are. So, why not start looking at the landscape of what has already been done and just give it a little tweak?

Well, that’s what I started doing. Taking a look at what is out there, even things that are decades and decades old, and looking at them with new and fresh eyes. Not only was this relieving for me–I didn’t have to come up with something crazy new all the time—but it was also empowering for our students to be a part of that original leadership process of creating and innovating upon what has already been done.

I was listening to a podcast recently and Barnes & Noble was the topic. Sounds incredibly exciting, right? Well, to my amazement it was. Barnes & Noble used to be a giant. They were a mainstay in the book world, the business world, and public life. I remember going to Barnes & Noble quite often to read books and just hang out; and then they got Starbucks too – even better. Then Amazon came along. Amazon put Borders out of business and began taking a massive toll on Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble started selling books online to compete, they created the Nook to compete, but they still couldn’t compete. They had to do something different; so they started selling board games. Yep, board games.

Now, Barnes & Noble brings in more revenue than they ever have and the majority of that revenue is from board games. They still have a brick and mortar store where people can go and read books; they’ve got Starbucks; they’ve got the Nook. And they did something new, not something revolutionary and overly inventive. They simply took an old standard and brought it into the mainstream. I’m working on doing Barnes & Noble Youth Ministry; creating a youth ministry and culture that doesn’t always have the pressure of crazy innovation, but begins ministerial and gospel revolution by taking the small things we’ve been doing for so long, and simply giving them a tweak. Reforming isn’t always about revolution.