Chaperone… or Sherpa?

Youth-LeaderWhat do you call your adult leaders in your youth ministry? Chaperones? Leaders? Ministers? …Steve?

Is there a word that captures their purpose a little better?

I’ve taught my Connect workshop to youth leaders 3 times in the last 7 days in 3 different states, and my message didn’t change:

“We don’t need more Chaperones; we need caring adults who are willing to connect with young people, love them, and engage in meaningful conversations.”

Last Saturday I taught this workshop in West Houston, and a youth worker named Dave Blanchard hosted it, inviting his team of Sherpas. Yes… a Sherpa. Like those Tibetan guides who know the terrain and escort people on tumultuous journeys across some of the toughest terrain they’ll ever navigate.

I love Dave’s choice of semantics. A “Sherpa” encapsulates so much of what we want our adult leaders to be.

I met some of Dave’s Sherpas, including 75-year-old Ed. Ed went to Dave’s Sherpa training and has been hanging out with high school kids since.

Dave says it well:

“Throughout scripture, people climb mountains, encounter God, and leave forever changed.  Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John – all changed (on a mountain) in the presence of God.  Youth ministry is about leading young people up the Mountain of the Lord – to experience God and leave forever changed.  For this, we need experienced mountain climbers to lead the way; people who have reached the summit themselves and know how to get back again.  We need wise and experienced Sherpas to accompany students as they navigate new and challenging terrain; invested guides, committed to the journey, whose ultimate goal is to summit that mountain – with students in tow.  Students who will encounter God and leave forever changed.”

Is it a big deal if we just call them youth leaders? Probably not. The point is this. We don’t need chaperones hanging out in the back perimeter of a youth room “keeping watch for when a kid steps out of line.” We need caring adult leaders who are willing to love kids, hang out with them, visit them on their own turf, and mentor them… or act as a “Sherpa”… as they navigate the journey of adolescence.

Are you mobilizing and equipping “Sherpas”?

What terms do you use?



About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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One Response to Chaperone… or Sherpa?

  1. Susan San Nicolas says:

    A few weeks ago, I finally went to the movie Everest. I was amazed at the work the Sherpa did ahead of time for the climbers and so this metaphor for youth workers resonated with me! At our ministry for at risk kids, this is exactly the concept we embrace, though we don’t use that term. But we are multigenerational (college age to our 60’s) and I love that! “Ed” inspired me! Thanks for sharing this, I have passed this on to the other “Sherpa” 🙂