If you didn’t catch the “Student Leader” A Dangerous Title from last week, you will want to read this first.
I am not sure why the title “Leader” is as glorified as it is. This last week I attended the National Youth Workers Convention in San Diego. As I walked through the exhibit area of the convention I was bombarded with signage advertising “Leadership.” Is it truly our goal to have student become “leaders?” Perhaps it is just semantics, but my primary goal as a Youth Pastor was to see student develop and mature in their relationship with Christ. Sometimes this brought about some great “leadership” skills and others became “leaders” in areas that few would ever notice.
Starting with the premise that the title “Student Leader” isn’t necessary, but Student Leadership is a given (meaning: it naturally happens, regardless of title), I would like to continue discussing this subject by providing some specific suggestions for those of you in Youth Ministry who are looking for practical ways to give students ownership within the ministry of the church.
As you mentally peruse your student ministry roster, as you envision those beautiful faces walking through the doors of your youth group, what are your goals for those students? Is it that they become “great leaders?” That wasn’t my goal. I actually envisioned them becoming greater followers. Putting pressure on them to “perform” is exactly what most everyone else is doing in their life.
- Get better grades
- Make varsity
- Score more points
- Get more girls/guys
- Strive to get a raise
I don’t think we need to add “become a student leader” to that fold… However, if you ask underclassmen what they for in their time in your group, don’t be surprised if they say, “become a leader.” This can happen regardless of whether you have a Student Leadership Team or not.
However, “team” is a concept I believe we can look to develop. I do believe there are ways you can still accomplish the goals you may have for a Student Leadership team, but do so without the undo pressure of trying to become a title. Here are a few suggestions.
- Utilize Seniors every-year. Because of age and stage give the seniors the “untitled” leadership role each year. I did this by creating the “Senior Thing.” This was a retreat I did each August with my senior-to-be. At this retreat we bonded as a team (through initiative games and discussions, prayer and encouragement, etc.). I would start by saying, “it’s your senior year, the underclassmen look at you as leaders, the question is, how are you going to lead?” They came to the realizations that they are leaders by default (because of age), furthermore, they began to understand that leadership can lead down a number of different paths. Perhaps instead of a title of “Student Leader” you can equip and empower your upperclassmen every year by utilizing them to dream, scheme and pray with you, then utilize them within the student ministry according to their gifts. This dramatically changed the “senior fall-out” I had experienced the first few years of ministry, seniors understood the role they could play in the future generation by serving the youth group rather than feeling like youth group was still for them.
- Create Multiple Teams. As students develop they begin to discover their gifts and skills. Giving students natural outlets to utilize these talents will benefit the student and the youth group. The obvious teams may come to mind: worship, service (community and church) drama and even programming (camps, upfronts, etc.). But what about the not-so-obvious? Like assimilation/follow-up to newcomers, teaching, prayer, encouragement, missions, writing, etc. Keep in mind that students typically don’t need “more” on their plates, however, creating opportunities where students can discover and develop gifts and talents is essential to their spiritual growth.
- Situational Leadership. Instead of having “Student Leadership” as a full-time club/team, what if you gave students the opportunity to lead for a season? Perhaps you rotate by class or small group but give different groups the opportunity to lead a youth group night, an outreach event or even a retreat? In these scenarios they will see it as a special occasion and not something the have “arrived at.” However, you’ll see students rise to the occasion and begin to understand that all aspects of the body are needed. Some will become administrative, others will look to be in the “lead” role upfront whereas others will strive to be behind the scenes and lead that way.
In all of these suggestions and many others you can think of (and please comment), I believe we (as Youth Leaders) need to shepherd, affirm, encourage (and correct when necessary) and look to support students in becoming a more mature follower of Christ.
It’s such an affirmation to be called a “leader” in the eyes of the world and is typically a slam to have someone say, “you’re such a follower,” however, this is exactly what we’re called to be. The question, are we, as Youth Leaders, modeling true follower-ship?