“Organic” is certainly a buzzword in the 21st century and we often associate it with food products. According to the USDA, “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” In that same line of thinking, effective student leadership should be organic. Student leaders should grow and mature through the natural course of their faith development.
Many student ministries try to create leadership factories. In those churches, the route to leadership within the ministry has a set formula. Sometimes youth are elected. Some have leadership teams that set the direction for the ministry. These student leadership efforts remind me too much of “worldly leadership.”
Here are four conditions that I believe cultivate organic student leadership that allows student leaders to grow naturally.
Good Soil = Discipleship
Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13:8)
The parable of the sower reminds us of what we know to be so true: seed sown in good soil produces the most fruit. Our priority as youth ministers is to develop good soil. Our programs and ministry should be tilling, fertilizing, and preparing the soil of those in our care so that they can hear and receive the Word.
Programs that naturally invite students into discipleship and to follow Christ will produce organic student leaders. Fellowship, belonging, Bible study, worship, service, and missions prepare those who God will call to lead. If we have not discipled them, then what kind of leaders will they be?
Gardeners = Nurturing Leaders
When our family goes out of town, our house sitter gets very detailed instructions on caring for our small vegetable garden. We know that if no one nurtures the plants while we are gone, then there will be no vegetables. Your organic student ministry leadership program will need leaders to tend to the garden. Good soil will produce young plants that need care. You have a responsibility to nurture young students as they grow in their discipleship. You also have a responsibility to recruit adults who see their primary task as the nurturing of youth into mature disciples. Just like a gardener, you will want to make sure that your young disciples are being fertilized (fed), watered, and pruned.
DNA = Culture of Call
A tomato plant’s DNA tells it that it is a tomato plant. Since each of us are a different part of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), we have a different purpose but our DNA tells us what our purpose is. We have a calling and function to accomplish within the Body. Our spiritual DNA is constructed by God for these unique purposes. Youth ministries that produce organic student leaders emphasize this spiritual DNA. We create a culture of call where students are invited to explore and seek out their spiritual gifts and calling. They are regularly asked questions of vocation and call. What is it that you do well and how can it be used to further God’s kingdom? What does God want you to do when you grow up? What can you do now that will share God’s love with others? Churches with a culture of call will have young people who are naturally looking for places of service.
Fruit = Service
Young people who are growing as disciples and being nurtured by leaders within a culture of call will seek opportunities of service. As they discover their spiritual gifts, they will look for places to try out those gifts through service to others. Organic student leadership will have natural places in which they can serve others. Those called to teach can begin to teach other youth or children alongside adults who share those gifts. Those with the gift of hospitality can make youth and adults feel welcome when they come to church or the youth ministry. Those with a heart for the hurting can serve in ministries that bring healing. Organic ministries will also provide resources when students feel called to fight injustice or start new ministries.
The Difference: Ministers instead of Leaders
Seeing leadership as a part of who we are as Disciples of Christ is a shift from worldly thinking to Kingdom thinking. Instead of raising up only a few students who we are grooming to be leaders, can we empower our whole ministry to seek out their unique call to serve God? Yes, I know that God through the church sets apart (ordains) some for specific ministry in the church. But will those who are being set apart not find that call in the organic process of living into their call? All are called to be ministers. I challenge you to ditch your student leadership program in favor of an organic student ministry process.
Can you imagine how the world will change if our students left our programs to continue to seek out their unique place of ministry in God’s plan to redeem the world?!