What is a student leader and why do we need them?

student leadershipTomorrow I’m being interviewed about my new book, “Ministry By Teenagers”, a book my friend David R. Smith and I wrote together about discipling teenagers to do so much more than just showing up, sitting down and shutting up.

I was sent the questions to this interview in advance, so I would know what I’ll be asked. One of the questions was, “Why do we even need teenage leaders?”

Good question.

To answer this question adequately we have to clarify exactly what we mean by “leader.” Does “leader” imply the same definition that many business books would apply: “Someone who casts vision; someone people follow?”

Or when we use the term “student leader” in youth ministry, are we talking about something else?

In the last few decades we’ve seen a handful of youth ministry books written about student leadership. These books all talk about developing student leaders and building student leadership teams. All these books are about the same thing: helping students grow, discover their spiritual gifts and begin using those gifts for the kingdom. (This is good stuff, whatever it is called.) For example, many of these youth ministry books discuss those kids with the gift of “compassion” or “helps.” These kids aren’t exactly the kids that are leading Bible studies or running mission trips. Some of them even play behind-the-scenes roles, like the quiet kid who loves the Lord, loves technology, and loves running the sound board.

Ministry By TeenagersThese are great elements in ministry — helping kids grow, and using their gifts for the kingdom — but is this leadership? Or as David and I put it in our book, if we were on a plane that crashed in the mountains, would these kids emerge and say, “Follow me! I’ll lead us out of here!” Are they the ones that would cast the vision for our group and lead us to safety?

Just realize, the world has a different definition for the word “leaders.”

I don’t mean to debate semantics. My point is this: we need to help kids grow spiritually, begin to discover their gifts and begin serving for the kingdom. That, whether it’s called “student leadership” or not, is what David and I attempted to help youth leaders do in our book.

QUESTION: What do you call it when we help kids grow, serve the kingdom and take ownership of their faith? Is that student leadership? Discipleship? Something else? What is a student leader and why do we need them?

[ Watch this video of Tim Schmoyer and Jonathan McKee discussing the book, “Ministry By Teenagers,” in a wacky car ride. ]

Posted on May 25, 2011

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