The Most Important Thing in Developing Student Leaders

Jen Bradbury
Jul 22 · 5 min read

On Tuesday, one of my students walked into our Student Leadership Team Meeting and promptly informed me that she had to leave at 4:30, a full half hour before our meeting was slated to end.

As I’ve spent a great deal of time with this team emphasizing the importance of their presence at our meetings and other youth ministry events, and even worked together to schedule these meetings at times my student leaders chose, I was immediately frustrated with this girl.

In fact, I was downright annoyed by this so-called leader.

Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse in a matter of seconds because the next thing out of this girl’s mouth was, “Might I suggest that since I have to leave early, we start with planning and then you guys can discuss ‘Relearning Jesus’ after I leave?”

“Relearning Jesus” is the book our team is reading and discussing together, to grow us as both leaders and followers of Christ and thus far, our discussions surrounding it have truly been phenomenal.

Because of that, I just about lost it when this girl suggested that I alter our entire schedule to suit her needs. In every way, that’s contrary to the model of leadership we’ve spent the last two months learning about (and this from a veteran student leader, who’s already spent a year with me!) Despite this, I bit my tongue and rather than respond hastily or harshly, simply asked, “Why do you think we should change things around?”

To which she responded, as though I were an idiot, “Well because planning is way more important than the book discussion.”

Inwardly, I wanted to scream but again, I refrained from doing so and instead asked, “Why’s that more important?”

Her answer?

“Because that’s when we actually do stuff.”

And that’s when my anger and frustration subsided, as I momentarily reflected on how counter-cultural what I’m trying to do in my leadership team meetings and teach my student leaders through those meetings, really is.

Our society tells students that they must go, go, go; That the more they do, the more worth they have.

This particular student’s schedule attests to that. On any given day, you can find her sprinting madly from one activity to the next, each designed to boost her grades, increase her ACT score, or give her the competitive edge on a sports team that might, in turn, lead to a college scholarship at a prestigious university where she can then fret over her grades for the next four years, constantly doing more and more in order to succeed.

In contrast, when this girl enters my meetings, we consistently start with prayer and a time of sharing, followed by a 90 minute discussion on our book and 30 minutes worth of planning. We do this because I believe that sometimes being is far more important than doing – especially when it comes to following Christ.

And what I want more than anything in my leaders is for them to consistently grow in their relationship with Christ; For them to always be wrestling with what it means to live everyday as a follower of Christ.

On Tuesday, I told this leader just that.

And then I stuck to my original schedule – prayer, sharing, discussion, and planning.

As promised, this leader left before we got to the planning. She left before we “did anything.”

And yet in reality, she was there for the most important part of the meeting. She was there for the part of the meeting that has the potential to shape and to continue to shape who she is and who she’s becoming – As a woman of God, a leader inside and outside of the church, and a follower of Christ.