How to Lead Volunteers Who Are Older Than You

When I started in full-time ministry at the age of 22,  I faced a challenge that all young leaders face. 

Trying to lead volunteers who are older than you.  

And at the age of 22, most of my volunteers were older than me.

One of my professors in Bible college told me that no one will listen to you as a leader until you are 30-years-old.  

I often found that statement was true in my life. 

When you are young, your volunteers will look older than you.  Sound older than you.   Act older than you.  

I remember when I was a young leader a specific incident where this happened.  A lady came by the church for marital counseling.  I had only been married for a year.  I tried to offer her advice as best I could from my very limited marriage experience.  It didn't go well.  At the end of the session, she looked at me and said, "Wow...these ministers keep getting younger and younger."

In spite of this leadership challenge, you can effectively lead volunteers who are older than you.  Here are a few things I have learned over the years about leading when you are young.  

Give volunteers a voice.  Listening is one of the best things you can do.  They want you to hear their opinions.  When you are willing to learn from your volunteers, it will help you become a better leader and mentor. Gathering opinions and feedback will cause your volunteers to respect you.  

Ask them how you can best support them.  Ask them what has worked well in the past.  Ask them what needs to be changed. 

Create a diverse team.  From diversity comes ideas and insight from different ages, genders and preferences.  A balanced team comes from balanced leadership.

Rally people to a vision.  A compelling vision can unite everyone behind a common cause.  Point people to the vision. This makes it not about you, but about the vision God has called you to fulfill as a team.  

Don't micromanage.   Trust your team and their many years of experience.  

Build relationships.  People don't follow a title.  They follow someone they love and respect.  Trust and respect takes time to gain.

Get some wins under your belt.  Even if they are small leadership wins, your team will see this and it will cause them to begin to respect you.  Authority is earned.

Invest in them.  If you invest your time, effort, and energy in helping the people on your team, they will be appreciative of your time.  

Know the difference between leading people and managing people.  A manager delegates tasks and assignments.  A leader invests in people and brings out the best in them.  He/she inspires teammates to do great work, make solid decisions and work toward a common goal.

Be confident.  If you show insecurity while leading, your volunteers will pick up on it and may become unsure about your leadership abilities as well.  This doesn't mean you should come across as cocky or as a know-it-all.  It means you know God has called you to this role and He is with you.  Rather than trying to walk in your own confidence, walk in Godfidence. 

Admit your mistakes.  When you blow it - be honest about it.  Balance strength and humility.  Don't let ambition come across as arrogance. 

Make changes...slowly.  Change should be an open book instead of a secret diary.  Bring people into the process of change.  In my book "Lead Well in Children's Ministry" I show the steps you need to effectively lead change.  You can get the book at this link

Ask God for wisdom.  You have a promise in James 1:5.

"If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking."

Ask God each day to fill you with the wisdom you need to lead well as a young leader. 

Lead on.  Lead well.  Lead with Godfidence.  Lead with God's anointing.  He has called you.  He will provide you with everything you need as a young leader. 

Your turn.  What recommendations do you have for young leaders?  Share your insight and ideas in the comment section below.