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How I started our student leadership team

Topic / Leadership

How I started our student leadership teamThe following is message I received from someone who wishes to remain anonymous. My response to their question is also included below. If you have ministry-related questions, you should definitely check out MinistryQuestions.com where myself and an online community of other ministry workers answer questions almost daily.

I am a pastor’s wife working with a youth group of about 40 jr. high and high school students and 7 adult volunteers who help with the ministry. We saw your resource on youth leadership on-line…. We have adapted a version of this which we feel fits our group. My question is, how do we motivate students to want to take on responsibilities? We presented the job descriptions and have asked them to respond. I also plan on talking to specific students to ask them to consider making the commitment. It seems the students are very content (in an apathetic way) to let the adults do everything. Do you have any advice for us?

First of all, we don’t have a ton of kids involved as student leaders. In fact, out of 200-some, we only have about 8 on board as student leaders. Some of them help lead jr high small groups and the others lead the worship team. For a group of about 40, starting with just 1 student leader is great!

But the bigger issue is that it sounds like you’re pitching the leadership team as a, “Who wants to do more work around here?” Of course, no one is going to sign up for that. They have to catch the vision for it and understand why.

Every student leader in my group is one that I hand-picked. We don’t really open it up to whoever wants to apply anymore. In fact, the kids on our “leadership team” don’t even think of themselves as being on a special team or anything. All they know is that they serve in the ministry in a leadership role.

When I approach a high school student who I feel confident would be a positive role model for jr. highers both spiritually and socially, I cast the vision for their position first. For example, “Hey Jill, I was wondering if you’d consider helping lead a jr. high small group this year. You remember when you were in jr. high how much you looked up to the high school kids. In fact, we’ve found that jr highers often listen to and respect high school students even more than the adult leaders! I really believe you could be a great positive influence on these jr. highers and would love for you to team up with us to impact these 7th and 8th graders. Would you be willing to help lead a jr. high small group with two other adult leaders this year?”

Of course, the conversation is longer and deeper than that, but that’s what I mean by casting the vision for them: about how they’re part of something bigger than themselves, the potential they have to make a difference, not just take on some work that the adults don’t want to do.

Also know that it may take your group several years to cultivate student leadership as a value in your ministry. Instead of starting with an official student leadership team, maybe you should follow more of a mentoring path:

1. Invite a teen to observe you in ministry on a regular basis.
2. Later, bring them along side of you and do ministry as partners.
3. Then push them to take the lead with your support.
4. Finally, launch them to serve on their own.

This whole process should probably take a year at minimum, maybe even 3 years at most. If it takes longer than that, you probably have a kid who is not catching your vision and passion. It’s not an official “student leadership team program” anymore, either, which is the direction I take with our group. It’s more of a group of students who are willing to serve and reach their peers for Christ, kids I usually hand-pick.

As the rest of the youth group see that one teen serve and they see it modeled for them for a couple years, the value of student leadership starts to sink in. For example, if Jill starts helping with a jr. high small group, the jr. highers who grow up with her as a leader will have that mindset that, “Hey, I loved having Jill as a leader in my group! I would love to do that for some other jr. highers when I’m in high school.”

That motivates them to grow up to be a positive influence in whom the other adult leaders will have confidence of establishing as a spiritual leader. Thus, the process of establishing leadership as value and casting the vision for your group isn’t as simple as starting a program with an application and saying, “Hey, you wanna sign up to do more work so we don’t have to?” I know that’s not what you’re saying, but that’s what the kids are thinking.

Start with one kid whenever that one kid comes along, cast the vision for him/her, come along side them to ensure their success, and be willing for leadership to take some time to build in your group.


Posted on September 23, 2009

  • great advice… i have had the same issues in student ministry. it is hard to get people to commit to more when they're involved in so much already. vision-casting is key.

  • I always like the idea of hand selecting some students that I feel would make good leaders, but I also open up leadership to anyone who wants to "apply." I set solid, clear, and biblical expectations for leaders and make it self-selecting in a way. If a student is willing to meet the expectations, great! In addition, I make it clear that everyone is welcome to serve in some way, no matter who you are. This year (I'm in a new position in a larger ministry than I'm used to), I'm trying something new for me: give students a choice between 1) serving by being on the leadership team and 2) serving but not being on the leadership team. This way, I make it clear that while all leaders need to serve and have a servant's heart, the distinction is that they are also involved in visioning, planning, and discernment.

    I have been pleasantly surprised at how many students are jazzed about serving in some way, whether through a need I've listed or by coming up with something I hadn't thought of. Time will tell if this approach is right for our ministry, but as my senior pastor says, "We love experiments!"

  • I think the work is the pool of leadership. Scripture says, "if you do not work, you do not eat." I like to see who wants to work first, before I invite them to leadership. A task is a small measure of what their potential could be. But you do have to have a plan post-task, Tim is right in the sense of kids don't just want more work. Through the task we can build relationships, impart vision, and hold them accountable. We can see how they respond to correction and pressure. Give them a task but make it a stepping stone not a deserted island.

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