Tom Dodds in Sunderland Shirt

Too Young to Lead?

18th Nov 2023

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 

1 Timothy 4:12


At just age 15, Tom saw an opportunity to help other young people in his community in Burntwood (Staffordshire). He asked Urban Saints for support to start a new peer-led Group for young people of a similar age.

Young people in my area are always sat outside the supermarket or in McDonalds because there is nothing to do and nowhere to go. I wanted to start this Group with a couple of my friends from church for many reasons, but mainly to create a place for young people to release energy, have fun doing a sport they love, and for them to all have a safe space to talk with other young people about any worries or thoughts they may have. Mental health is important and needs to be spoken about. As a young person myself I also understand the exam pressure at this time, thats why the Group is run by young people and aimed at 15-18-year-olds who may be currently under pressure doing their GCSEs and A Levels. This Group will give them a space to be encouraged, have fun and care for each other.

One year later, the Burntwood Group has launched and runs every week on a Monday evening, attracting a growing number of young people.

Hearing about this new group, the young people from the Mill Hill Group (North London) invited Tom for an online interview so they could hear more about how he leads, why he chooses to lead, and what he has discovered about himself through his leadership journey. 
The interview was hosted by one of the young people, Bradley. 

Bradley (YP): Like, what are your favourite hobbies to do right now? 

To be honest, at the moment it is probably gaming still.

Bradley (YP): What's your favourite game?

It's gonna sound a bit cringy at the moment, but Fortnite because of the new season, but that's the only reason.

Bradley (YP): Yeah, quite a few people here agree with you. What do you like to do in your spare time when you're not gaming?

I play a bit of guitar. I don't know really know what else I do to be fair. Sit on my phone.

Bradley (YP): That's a normal young person response. Great. Anyway, now I want to get into a few questions about what you do with your life. I heard you're a youth leader or a leader of some sorts?

Yes. So, I've got just a small group that meet on a Monday and play a bit of football together. And it's quite enjoyable.

Bradley (YP): Why did you decide to become a leader of a group?

To be honest, it started off quite small. It was literally like every week, just me and my mates inside our house doing nothing. And I saw an opportunity to get out at the local leisure centre by us where every Monday they have a six-a-side game on. So, I thought why not sign up for that. So, I signed up for it, and immediately I saw it could be an opportunity to get people out of the house a bit more and doing some physical activity. Especially as it was during exam times, which was really stressful for us. So, I just thought it'd be a really good idea to help people out.

Bradley (YP): Has your life has changed since you became a leader doing this?

That’s a good question. It's obviously ups and downs. Like there's the side of it where I'm under pressure trying to sort out everything for a Monday to make sure everything's ready, and I'm ready for it. But then the other side is being able to like support people. Like on one of the days I was there and turned around and I saw everyone enjoying themselves and everyone smiling, and that felt so positive. I think it's had a very positive impact for me.

Bradley (YP): Would you say it's rewarding doing it?

It definitely is rewarding. Not only for myself, although it really helped me mentally during exam times, knowing that I could get out and even though I was leading, I knew that there were people there that would I could talk; but, also seeing the impact it's had on other people. Every Monday they feel it's great because they're able to get out and not be alone. It's been brilliant really.

Bradley (YP): Do you think you're too young to lead a group?

Definitely not, I think it goes back to that saying of, you know, 'you can do whatever you put your mind to' really. Some people may think that you might need more experience, but in my opinion, you honestly don't. If you can show people that you're there for them, and you can get a few other people around you, then I would definitely say you're never too young to lead a group or anything like that.

Bradley: What would you say to young people that would like to lead but feel like they can't?

If it's something that you're passionate about...  like for me, I've always I felt like I would be a good leader in most things that I've done. For example, I did the Police Cadets for a while and I felt that I was able to lead in that as well. So my advice would be just always keep going with it. Don't ever let someone say you'd be bad at it or you wouldn't be able to do anything. If its on your heart, it's honestly something you really need to put your mind to it and do it. So, for people that may feel that they can't do it, I'll just say, why not go for it. If you can get a small group together and just talk to each other and have fun, I think very quickly you'll see the impact it really has.

Bradley (YP): Are you inspired at all by Jesus?

Oh, definitely, yeah. I've been a Christian like my whole life.  I can't remember me not being a Christian and I'm part of youth groups myself at my church. And to be honest, my youth leaders there inspire me as well, but particularly, God. Very recently, my faith has been strengthened a lot more and I felt like God was almost saying to me that I should be doing this because it has an impact on other people’s lives. Most people at the group aren't Christian, or they're not part of any faith, but everyone there knows that I am. So to be able to express the fact that everyone is loved by Jesus and stuff is... I feel like it's something that I've been inspired by God to do this and continue with it.

Bradley (YP): Have you ever thought about stopping the group?

There has been times... You know, every Monday it feels like a big responsibility to sort it all out and it can get a bit much, especially being younger, and starting A'levels and all that. But again, it's one of those things where I know that if God was telling me that I shouldn't be doing this, I would have stopped it by now. But there's something in me that always wants to keep it going and God always gives me what I need to keep organising it.

Femi (Youth Leader): Hi Tom. Do you want to close us in prayer and just pray for these young people that they can exercise that gift of leadership? Thank you for being a great example for them and thank you for joining us and answering their questions.

Yeah, I can pray. Lord, I just pray for these young people to know that you are with them at all times, especially during times like these where the world is a confusing place. Just help them to know themselves that there is a leader in everyone in different ways and help them find the strength to understand how they can help others and know that there's a purpose for them all. Lord, and I just pray that everyone has good health and that you watch over them. Amen.

Femi (Youth Leader): Amen. There’s another question from the young people if you don't mind.

Yeah, go for it.

Connor (YP): Is it hard to be a leader?

To be honest, when you get into it, you naturally find yourself doing it. I mean, we play football every week and let me tell you, I'm terrible at football. I'm no good at it. I support Sunderland, and that probably says a lot. But when I got there, I found myself sort of helping people, just talking them through it, giving them the confidence to continue. So, I think it's something that once you're doing it, it just becomes more natural.

Femi (Youth Leader): So now we have another two questions if that’s OK?

Yeah, that's honestly fine.

Christophe (YP): Do you believe in God?

Yeah. I believe in God. I've been a Christian my whole life. So yeah. And especially recently, I've felt like my faith has been strengthened massively.

Bradley (YP): Have you ever wondered if you should stop believing in your faith? Like, has your faith ever stopped?

Oh, yeah, definitely. There was a time for me where, being at school, a lot of people question my faith, and it does get to the point where you start to question it yourself. But, like I said, recently, I felt just more direction about what to do, and maybe that’s why I started the group because something inside was telling me that, you know, God is there. There's no reason I should ever doubt. I mean, I felt like He was showing me things that just made it clear to me.

Bradley (YP): And one more question. Since you started this group, has your confidence grown?

Oh, definitely. I mean, if I looked back at me a few months ago, maybe a year ago, there was no chance I'd be able to get on a call and talk in front of people or even meeting all those people on a Monday... there was no chance, I would have found myself a year ago being able to do that. So, it has definitely grown and it's honestly helped more than I could ever imagined.

Sara (Missions Lead): Tom, could you share if and how Urban Saints has helped you do on that journey to becoming a leader?

Yeah. So, I started with a with Urban Saints during the Covid lockdown. I started The Early Early Show, which was a massive confidence boost, doing meetings and interviewing people. And that carried on for a while, and ever since then, I've worked with Urban Saints. And they've really helped me. For example, the team there have just supported me and given me opportunities to develop my passions and skills, which really boosted my confidence, especially with The Early, Early show. I received such amazing responses from that. It's massively boosted my confidence and it was an amazing opportunity to build my skills in media. Also, I went to Spree for many years when I was younger and loved watching the DJs out there doing the music, so I got in touch with the team and asked if I could try DJ'ing and they said that would be great. I was able to do it and again that was like a massive step for me, just reaching out to ask and then simply putting music on headphones. It was a massive step, but it started the journey of me being a leader. It’s about taking a leap and showing up. And then because the team believed in me, I was invited to I help out at conferences and exhibitions too. Then just taking that small step on a Monday, just choosing to find a place to play football with my mates, and I knew straight away that was something that could grow so I reached out to Urban Saints for help with it. And it's honestly been amazing. So, I haven't been doing this alone because I've had the biggest help from them all.

Bradley (YP): Great. Someone here said your silent disco at Spree was great fun. One more quick question. How many people do you normally have at the Monday group?

So, we are part of a six-a-side league that play on Mondays, so we always have six players playing and then extra people as subs. But we keep getting a massive turnout, with people just coming to watch, chat and enjoy spending time together. So, we regularly hit about 11 or 12 young people, and then have extras that have started turning up now on a Monday which is brilliant for us.

Bradley (YP): Do you do anything other than football?

Well, we're trying to expand to give more opportunities for people but at the moment is just a case of we meet up, and football is really the only sport that goes on in the area right now, which is why we want to expand it to allow for more opportunities for young people that might not want to get involved in football stuff. But at the moment, that's the only thing we're doing. Obviously, I know that some people probably won't enjoy football. I know there's many people that don't. I don't necessarily enjoy it half the time, but it was a way of starting to pull people together. I am working with Urban Saints to see how we can get funding so we can get into a venue on another day of the week, just so we can host more things young people enjoy and have more people attend.  We want to create more spaces for young people to feel safe, get more involved, and talk about their concerns or faith. I'd love to be able to get more young people involved in something.

Bradley (YP): Thank you for coming. And thank you for your time here. But we have to go now. It was very helpful. Wow.

Femi (Youth Leader): Thank you very much. Wow, let's all give Tom a round of applause to say thank you. I'd also like to pray for you Tom. Father God, thank you God for Tom and for the gift of leadership that You've given to him. I just pray Lord God, that you continue to fan that flame. And I pray Lord God that you just continue to allow him and give opportunities to reach and lead these young people. Continue to show him and lead him in the ways he can be an example for young people around him and form him into the image of Your Son Jesus Christ. And bless him for taking the time to address us. Amen. Thanks, Tom.