One of my mentors, Mark DeVries, told me a few years ago that if students are not leading, then they are leaving. The more I thought about it and the more I viewed the ministry through that lens, the more I realized he was right. Even now as I think about my own faith journey and especially my journey into ministry, I know that to be true of my own story. I had a youth minister who constantly put me into leadership positions, even to the point where I, as a 17-year-old, was leading our biggest youth worship night, speaking weekly. I look back on that and think two things:
1. Man that guy was an idiot. 2. Thank God for that idiot.
I do think we need to nuance our thought on this a little, however. I do not think that we need to empower youth to lead as a retention mechanism. What I realized later was that retention alone was not why Mark was telling me they should lead. He wanted me to know that it is our job to empower students to lead because that is what God is calling them to do. We are a training ground for these youth, teaching them how to have ownership, allowing them to mess up, and celebrating them when they succeed. It is our calling to wean them off of the consumer model of ministry and launch them into a life of servant leadership.
There are many wonderful ways to mold leaders; here are a few that I use and have found to be the most helpful.
The best leaders do not selfishly cling to their leadership and power; they gladly give it away to others. It is a gift that ultimately gives back. Leadership is a gift that I hope you are giving to your students every day. They are capable, willing, and passionate. They just need someone who will recognize their potential and believe in them enough to see the power of possibility bubbling inside of each of them.
Stephen Ingram is a dad, husband, and foodie. He serves as the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Ala. He has a BA in Religion from Samford University and a Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. Stephen has worked as a student minister for more than 13 years and also serves as a consultant with Youth Ministry Architects. He lives in Birmingham with his wife Mary Liz and their three kids Mary Clare, Patrick, and Nora Grace.
Stephen’s book Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel is now available from CYMT Press. He blogs at organicstudentministry.wordpress.com.
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