What leadership roles do you give students?

These days, there are few leadership roles I'm not willing to give students.

This is a significant change from my early days in youth ministry, when there were few leadership roles I was willing to give students. In those days, my student leaders readied the room for youth group, folded bulletins, greeted people, and gave announcements. Upon doing those things, students earned the title leader.

Nowadays, I believe student leaders aren't just people who do certain things. Rather, they are those we intentionally choose to develop as Godly leaders through on-going discipleship. Accordanly, I now view the roles students play as a vehicle for developing them as leaders.

In this paradigm, who a student is influences what role they play in ministry. In recognition of this, I develop roles with my student leaders, sometimes by asking, “What role would you like to play on our team?” and other times by listening to what they're saying (and sometimes just as importantly, to what they aren't saying). Since who a student is influences their leadership role, roles change on a yearly basis but sometimes include an announcement guru who creates fliers advertising upcoming ministry events and then creatively announces these events; A confirmation ministry liaison who serves as a bridge between our confirmation and high school ministries and helps connect our younger students to our older ones; And student coordinators for specific events, like service projects or summer mission trips, who work with adult leaders to plan and facilitate specific ministry events before the event through behind-the-scenes labor, during the event through up-front leadership, and after the event to process it.

To assign leadership roles, I ask students which roles they'd be most and least excited about fulfilling and why. In one-on-one conversations, I also ask students which roles they'd give to other student leaders and why. Then I think about each individual person and how I hope they'll grow in their faith and as a leader throughout the year.

Oftentimes, this means I assign students to roles that allow them to develop new gifts rather than rely solely on those they've already discovered. Similarly, in order to stretch and challenge a leader, I rarely give students the role they most want. Instead, I assign students roles that will push them out of their comfort zones, trusting that doing so will create an opportunity for them to learn to depend on God and ultimately strengthen their faith and leadership skills.

To further challenge students to step out of their comfort zones, I also encourage student leaders to facilitate a Bible study during the year. As long as a student is willing to prepare and talk about their discussion questions in advance with me, any student leader who wants to is welcome to do this.

While the aforementioned roles recognize the individuality of student leaders, I also want to develop certain characteristics in all of my leaders. To facilitate this, I expect all student leaders in my ministry to be welcomers and servants. As welcomers, student leaders are responsible for setting the tone of our ministry and for, in the words of one of my student leaders, ensuring every person who walks through our ministry doors feels “not just welcomed, but wanted”. As servants, student leaders put the needs of others before their own by talking to newcomers before they talk to their best friends; Providing snacks; And solving problems rather than complaining about them.

As I've experimented with widening the scope of roles I give to student leaders, I've realized I am who limits what roles student leaders can fulfill. My insecurities, fear, and lack of time sometimes keep me from giving student leaders significant roles with real responsibility. Yet, each time I've given student leaders significant roles, they've proven they can do them.

In the process, they've also reminded me that faith grows when we fulfill significant roles that challenge us and in the process, teach us more about the leaders God is calling us to be.

This post originally appeared on Slant 33. 


Joel Eisenbraun

Jen, I loved your thoughts on student leadership. I'm stealing them all!
Seriously, thanks for the insights and great writing. Keep it up!

Posted by Joel Eisenbraun, over 11 years ago

Russell Martin

Is the linked article available somewhere else? It doesn't seem to be working and I would love to read it.

Posted by Russell Martin, over 10 years ago

Jen Bradbury

Russell - Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Barefoot no longer does Slant 33, but I hadn't realized they'd removed the site. I will repost my portion of the article here, though I do not have copies of what the other panelists said.

Posted by Jen Bradbury, over 10 years ago

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

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