Youth Ministry Essentials: Cultivating Student Leadership
An essential part of the youth leader's job is to identify, recruit, and develop potential leaders . . . . . . in your students. That's right. Not only do we as youth leaders have the responsibility to find and train adult leadership to come alongside us in mobilizing and growing our youth ministry, but we must also cultivate leadership in our students. WHY?Glad you asked . . .
Cultivating leadership in our students is a necessary stage of development on two levels.
- Your youth group will benefit from the familiar influence of one of their peers. The power students hold to influence their peers, positively or negatively, probably outweighs much of your immediate influence as a pastor.
- There is tremendous power in the personal growth that will take place in your student's lives when they wrestle with the rewards and costs of leading their peers in Christ's name.
That's the "why." And it's pretty compelling. So, why don't the majority of youth leaders cultivate leadership in their students? If we're honest with ourselves, many of us are legitimately concerned about handing over too much responsibility, and maybe more importantly, too much expectation to our students. Why? Because they're teenagers. They don't always come through. They show up late without an explanation. Or they don't show up at all. (This is particularly frustrating when it's a Sunday morning when you have assigned them to help teach a class.) Students can be inconsistent, inconsiderate, and inexperienced . . . Which is EXACTLY why we SHOULD cultivate leadership in them!The big question is "how"? What are some ways we can go about cultivating leadership in students? Think of it this way: cultivating leadership is like learning to ride a bike: you simply have to get on and start peddling. Get on the bike with these 4 steps:
Use Biblical principles
As a youth leader, you need to make the judgment calls on what responsibilities to entrust to particular students. From a spiritual development standpoint, we feed learners "milk" first and work our way up to "meat." This is a great principle to use. Assess the performance of your students in handling their responsibilities. According to the Parable of the Talents, whoever has been found faithful with little should be given more.
Start with managable/immediate tasks and goals
Some of the more routine tasks can actually be pretty important, yet still manageable. For example, during your weekly youth service, identify if there are any first time visitors attending. Instead of pointing them out to the whole group, ask a student you trust to introduce himself to the visitor. Encourage him to invite the visitor to sit with the group. Let the student know it's his objective to make this visitor feel welcome.
Graduate your students to larger responsibilities
Just like teaching a child how to ride a bike, at some point you need to take off the training wheels. A few years back, I learned of a need with our audio/tech department on Sunday mornings. I asked a particular student to help out. He learned quickly and liked helping out the team on Sunday mornings. He asked if he could regularly be involved with the audio team. His parents were a great asset in helping communicate the scope of showing up early on Sunday mornings and committing to the rotation of operating the sound equipment for worship services. Thankfully, he was ready for the responsibility and became a great asset to our church's ministry.
Honest assessment is a must
A youth leader needs to honestly assess if students handle their responsibilities well or if they neglected do what needed to be done. Don't be afraid to let a student know how they fell short, or if they neglected to show up to teach a class on time. This type of redirection is necessary to let them know the task was important and that they are needed. Every part of the body of Christ is important. It's probably pretty important to also assess your own expectations. Are you pushing too hard? Maybe for some students, between sports, school, ACTs, mid-term papers, and family time there really is no more time for additional leadership responsibilities at church. Part of your being an effective leader is an accurate evaluation of the student and the whole of his or her responsibilities.
Cultivating leadership in your students is not just an exercise for the students. It's an exercise in expanding and maturing your leadership as well. So, who are the potential leaders in your youth ministry?