The Sweet Spot in Youth Ministry: Students Leading Students
Something special happens when students are given leadership opportunities. I’ve been a big believer in this for many years, seeking out ways to equip and empower students.
Like many things in life and ministry, good thoughts are not enough to make it happen. It takes an intentionality to make it work. Here are some thoughts on working with student leaders.
When I first started in ministry, one of the focuses I had was to create a student leadership team. I did this, in part, because it had been my experience.
Growing up in the church, I was afforded opportunities to learn and grow and lead. This was also the case in my internship. It was just something I observed happening
This might be the first important part to cover when it comes to leadership: We usually mimic what we’ve been shown. (And if this is true of us, it’s true of those we lead).
So, this is what I decided to do. I’d train students to be leaders and develop a program where leadership skills would be strengthened and where students would be given opportunities to lead their peers.
Over the years, I did all this and more with a lot of experiments. I went through a season of having weekly meetings with students. Other times, I did monthly and bimonthly meetings. I’ve put on retreats, taken students to conferences, had students lead games, lessons, preach, and more.
Regardless of the “program” I used for student leaders, one thing has proved certain over the years: out of everything I’ve done in ministry, developing student leaders is one of the most important investments I can make.
I’m not an expert here, but I thought I’d offer a couple of ideas on developing student leaders.
Not all leaders look the same
I think at times we look for a certain mold when it comes to leaders. You know what I’m talking about, right? We look for the dynamic and outgoing, the super committed and confident students. The ones we envision would be future youth pastors themselves (or CEOs).
But leaders come in all kinds of personalities. Sometimes your most effective leaders are the quiet and reticent, those that might never volunteer for anything, and yet, these students are incredible leaders.
It’s the job of the youth leader to not only respond to the initiative taken by students, but to seek out good leaders as well. Sometimes the best leaders are blending in with the crowd. It’s your job to see that potential and help bring it out for the kingdom.
Jesus didn’t just passively wait for his followers to show up. He called to them. Don’t be afraid to call students into leadership.
I’m always surprised when I have a ‘feeling’ about a student’s leadership ability and they are hesitant until they get plugged in. Then, in hindsight, I can’t imagine them not leading. It’s strange, but it happens all the time.
Students follow your cues
Want your students to be inclusive and un-cliquish? Want your students to be excited and passionate about what you’re doing? Then look at yourself…and your leaders. Students mimic what they observe. This has a lot to do with culture.
Create the kind of culture you want to see in your youth group. And it begins with yourself and your leaders. Are you the first to meet a new student who comes to youth group? Are you excited about camps and events? Are you passionately walking with the Lord?
Don’t expect to lead students to a place that you haven’t been to.
If you want students reading Scripture, ask yourself how your devotional time is going?
If you want students passionate in worship, look at how you’re worshipping.
If you want students to invite their friends to church, ask yourself when was the last time that you invited a friend or neighbor to church?
When students participate it’s just better
This is kind of obvious, I know, but sometimes we choose ease over effectiveness. If you can have a student participate in something, then do it. You can create a ministry where leaders and adults do all the work and students simply sit back watching, but not actively serving. But church isn’t a spectator sport.
Incorporate students in any way you can. Yeah, maybe your band sounds cool with only college kids, and all your graphics look a little more polished with that expert doing it. But is it better?
It’s not. What is better is including students in all aspects of the ministry. I’d rather have full engagement from students than anything else honestly. It just makes things better.
There’s a lot to say about owning a ministry. When you own it, you have a stake in it. When your participation is integral to the whole thing working, it gives a different feeling to the ministry. And that is contagious.
The more students you have serving and working together, well, that kind of engagement is exciting for others. It gets more people involved in what you’re doing.
Remember youth ministry is about planting seeds
It’s easy to get discouraged in ministry, even when working with your ‘leader’ type kids. Sometimes we think we’re not making a difference.
We wonder if the message was even listened to. We wonder if they did the reading you carefully selected at the beginning of the year. You wonder all of this and more. (Can anyone relate?!)
You can get discouraged. But remember, what you’re doing now is mainly planting seeds. What students are experiencing and learning might not show fruit immediately. Don’t ever forget, though, that this doesn’t mean growth isn’t happening.
Student leadership is largely about planting seeds that will be harvested later. Furthermore, some of the lessons learned might not even make complete sense at this point, but later on they will.
A few closing thoughts
Recruiting student leaders is a never-ending process. I have to remind myself of a few simple things to do consistently.
To keep Identifying leaders.
To keep empowering them and living life with them.
To keep helping students learn to lead and then actually allowing them to do it. Because the crazy truth is, they can.
When you get discouraged, remember we’re planting seeds and sometimes the harvest isn’t so immediate, but this doesn’t mean God isn’t at work. He is.
Students leading students is the sweet spot in youth ministry.
Make it happen and be on the look out for the incredible things God will do.