Student leadership is a challenging part of youth ministry. Many churches regulate leadership to decision making or simply service. Youth serve on a council (see post on 5 Steps to Engage your Youth Ministry Team) and give their input into trips or special events. At other churches, the leaders serve by helping pick up chairs or greeting folks at the door. I learned the hard way that Student leadership is about leading youth to be leaders. Leadership development takes time and energy which is why most churches don’t do it well. Student Leadership is essential to developing a healthy youth ministry program that allows students to continue to grow in their faith.
This step is probably the most challenging. Leadership development takes time and investment on your or a volunteers part. Adding one more thing to do to your task list will make Student Leadership a failure. If you read my post about Major Event Coordinators and how they save you time know that student leadership that is the opposite. It takes time. It takes discipleship. Therefore, you must carve out time be letting some things go (using Major Event Coordinators) is one way to get some more time.
The second way that you need to create space is for students to lead. Before inviting youth to lead, you need to have a good idea(s) for how you will allow them to lead. The best ways for students to participate is to serve out of their gifts. Here are a suggestions and warnings:
Not too Big and Not to Small
Student leaders need to serve in areas where they are capable. If the task takes more time and preparations then they have it will not work. If they feel like they are going to fail, it won’t work. It doesn’t mean that leadership should not stretch them, because it should. On the same note, if what they are asked to do is too small then they quickly will become disenfranchised with being a leader.
Makes a Difference in the Ministry
Whatever your student leaders do it needs to add value to the ministry. They should walk away knowing that their contribution made the ministry stronger. If you simply use student leaders to do things that are not necessary for the ministry, they will recognize that you are truly allowing them to lead and they’ll quit. Create space for them to lead!
Next you need to invite them. I recommend identifying leaders and then helping them discern how they can best be a leader in the group. I also feel it is important to have an open invitation, because there are youth who want to lead that might not be obvious leaders to you. I’m always surprised and often the most blessed by those I didn’t expect.
When you meet with the potential student leaders, you should have some ideas for how they might lead; but don’t box them in. Listen to their hopes and dreams for the ministry. Consider how you might make space for them to do something they are feeling called to do. As youth grow in their leadership, they will begin to suggest other ways they can serve. Your job becomes helping equip them and supporting them through their successes and failures (yes, its OK to let them fail).
What do they need to know to do what you have asked them to do? Are they going to greet folks at the door? Work them to develop a system and ideas for how to best welcome people and connect visitors. Are they going to read scripture in worship or at youth group? Practice with them so they can excel at the task. If they are running your Powerpoint, make sure they have access to the computer and files and tools. If they are going to lead a small group, provide regular training and support just like you do (or should) with your adult leaders.
Sometimes they will exceed your expectations and other times they will fail, but that’s how they learn. Treat them as Jesus did the disciples—spend time with t hem, teach them, model for them, and empower them to change the world.
All of these steps are essential for student leadership excess. My experience says its messy, but totally worth it. If they truly are the church of today, then let them be and lead the church.
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