Student leadership is an often overlooked but essential element to youth ministry. Why do we neglect it? Maybe it's the time, energy, and investment involved versus the sometimes intangible pay offs. However, even though student leadership may play a small part of most youth groups, it's the key to building ownership in your student ministry.
Andy Stanley, lead pastor at NorthPoint Community Church, uses the analogy of a house to explain people's levels of involvement in the church. This metaphor works really well when examining the idea of ownership and leadership regarding your youth group.
The Foyer When people come into a house, the first room they enter is the foyer. These people are probably visitors. Every visitor to your student ministry and maybe even some of your newer students are in the foyer stage. These students are going to "the youth group down the road."
The Living Room Stanley's next stage is the living room. This is where people begin to feel comfortable. This is the stage where most of your students are. "The youth group down the road" has become "the youth group which I attend." This is a crucial step in your students beginning to "plug in" to your youth ministry.
The Kitchen Most student ministries stay in the living room stage and don't ever get to the final stage: the kitchen. In the kitchen, students become part of the family. They have roles and responsibilities. The "youth group I attend" becomes "my youth group." This stage is almost impossible to get to without students taking ownership in the ministry. So, how do you build a student leadership team?
Enlist Students to Be in Leadership
The best leaders are not always the first to volunteer. Many students with leadership potential are already serving in other areas. They may be hesitant to sign up for something else. The same students that serve in leadership at the church where I serve are also leaders in athletics, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and First Priority clubs at school. So, you might consider enlisting students vs. waiting for volunteers. Look around you for students who are stepping up and showing leadership potential. Incorporate your ministry team in helping you identify potential student leaders.
Explain the Cost and Responsibility of Leadership
Students and youth workers alike must understand that leadership comes with a cost. Students are responsible to God and others for how they lead. Leadership covenant In order to present the cost and responsibility of leadership to students, I have developed a leadership covenant. This is a single page document that each student takes home and prays over before signing. This document underscores the importance of prayer, Bible study, modeling Christian character, developing spiritual gifts, and witnessing. These are all essential elements to leading other students well. After the first meeting, students are given an opportunity to step away if God is not leading them to serve.
Explore Students' Spiritual Gifts
Serving as a leader is not going to look the same for every student. Just as you, as the youth leader, have certain strengths and weaknesses, your students do, as well. Many students, however, have a hard time on their own defining these strengths and weaknesses. This is why student leadership forms an important role in developing students through personal growth and discipleship. As students learn their strengths and weaknesses, they will grow as individuals. This is why student leadership often does not have immediate, tangible results. As youth leaders, we will never know the impact that we have had on a student with regard to their growth both spiritually and in leadership.
Empower Students to Serve
Empowering students to serve is the final step in developing student leaders. This is a phase that many youth leaders struggle with. At this point some level of control and responsibility must be given over to students. This can be a messy but rewarding process. It's important in this process to create spaces for students to serve based on their spiritual gifts. In doing this, we allow students to play to their strengths and to have success in leadership endeavors. Setting students up for success is essential in helping them step out and lead in the future. Through this process, the connection of ownership occurs. The movement from "the youth group down the street" to "the youth group which I attend," to "my youth group" is accomplished while encouraging, teaching, and empowering students to lead. And that is worth the effort to developing student leaders.
- What are some steps you take to develop student leaders in your youth ministry?
- What are the challenges to identifying and developing student leaders?