My new book, Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders, is out! I'm convinced that when done well, student leadership has the ability to transform your youth ministry. With that in mind, over the next several weeks, we're going to be talking about student leadership. You'll hear from several different youth workers about why they value student leadership as well as how they do student leadership.
Today's post is by Rachel Blom. Rachel and I have been internet friends for several years. We finally got to meet last year at the Women in Youth Ministry Campference. She's a fabulous mother, friend, Christ-follower, and youth worker and she loves the outdoors. She's the author of Storify and she blogs at Youth Leaders Academy.
Student leadership is complicated, it’s messy, and it’s certainly not easy. Then why do we even bother? Why do we invest our valuable time, energy, and resources in developing students into leaders—and sometimes failing spectacularly?
Let me list just one example, though a costly one. I had asked a team of students to come up with a plan for an outreach event and they did. They found an adventure course nearby that would be perfect for our needs. When I responded enthusiastically to this plan, they made a mistake that ended up costing me over $1000.
They signed a contract with this company and since the student who signed was 18, it was legally binding. They hadn’t asked me, but more importantly: I hadn’t told them they couldn’t enter into any contract without my permission. They thought they were being proactive, but it ended up costing us when we had to cancel the event and the contract didn’t allow for cancellation. I learned a valuable lesson about managing contracts and money with my student leadership, but it didn’t deter me from giving responsibility to my students.
So why is student leadership so important? Why do we do it, even when it can backfire so badly? It’s a question I’ve often asked myself in the long time I’ve been doing youth ministry. And I’ve come up with several reasons, actually.
When done right, student leadership can save you as a youth pastor time. As a youth pastor I had a team of students who prepared our monthly youth services to a degree where I had little to do except prepare my own message. Sure, it doesn’t always work out that perfectly, but students can take over tasks from you, thus freeing up time for more important things.
There’s also the aspect of developing leaders for the church, of raising up the next generation of leaders. This is crucial for the church, but also for the students themselves. Helping them develop valuable tools they’ll need to serve in the church (and succeed in life, by the way) is an investment of eternal proportions.
I see great benefits in letting students lead because they know way better than adults what their peers will like, love, appreciate. You could call this the feedback aspect, where you allow students to give feedback on your plans.
You could make an argument that it will help teens connect on a deeper level with the church. This is not a small thing when we look at statistics on teens leaving the church. Giving them responsibilities will make them feel like they belong, like they’re valuable, contributing something.
And even more important, student leaders will grow closer to Christ as a result of their deep involvement in the ministry. This requires the mentor (usually the youth pastor) to be exceptionally vulnerable, authentic, and open to sharing his or her life with the students. But when that happens, students will grow as a result.
I’m sure that if I brainstormed a little more, I could come up with more reasons why student leadership is so crucially important. But to me, it all boils down to this: ownership.
Students leadership results in students taking ownership of the ministry. This means they will invite their friends to come to events, will do their best to make the ministry the best it can be, will develop themselves to benefit the ministry, will experience a deep sense of purpose and belonging thus stimulating their faith in Christ.
Too often, we have teen spectators instead of teen owners. But spectators have no ‘skin in the game’, and they will care only a little about the results. Owners, however, invest all they have into the game—in this case the ministry. They will work hard; do everything they can to make it successful.
When we manage that shift in youth ministry, from passive observer to active participant, that’s when the ‘magic’ happens. And the key is student leadership.
To learn more about student leadership, get your copy of Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders here!