Creating Student Leaders in Youth Ministry
When I was in my first youth ministry job I began gathering students in my living room once a week.
We would spend the time planning the next nights’ service. From games to skits to videos, we did it all. We also spent time calling other students and inviting them to come to youth group. This was before cell phones, so we had to pass around the cordless phone one at a time and make calls. Looking back on it, this was probably the development of an unintentional student leadership team. Years later, and in a new context, I received some teaching and challenge to purposefully begin developing students into leaders. In 1999 I pulled about 15 students together and began to invest into their lives. Over the years, I have learned by trial and error what seems to be a strategy for developing and leading a leadership team.
One of the first questions to ask when forming a SL Ministry is,
“What is this team’s purpose?”
There are a lot of different purposes for having a team, so getting clarity before you begin is a good first step. For us, a primary focus has been to create servant leaders. Teaching students to be a leader means you have to grow in having a heart of service. When I look for students to ask to join this team, I usually start by asking myself the question, “Does this student have a servant’s heart?” We spend about a third of our time talking about ways to serve our youth ministry, church, and community. We discuss participating in activities such as the 30hr Famine, our coat and blanket drive each winter, and our church’s spring initiative. It does not end by just talking about these events. We then entrust ministry over to the students. As adult leaders we have to be willing to let go and let students lead. There is a certain level of support we must offer, but we don’t want to get in the way of their creativity and ownership.
There are a lot of ways to lead and structure your student leadership teams. Some break them up by ministry teams; drama, worship, greeting, etc. Others look more like an event planning team, and some serve as an idea tank for the Youth Pastor. None of these are bad ideas. I have tried to have a little of all three of these, plus a couple other main focuses. Over the course of a year we will talk on many of these areas.
Here is what our year generally looks like:
We start off each year with a fall retreat where we spend our time talking about the vision and direction for the coming year. As part of this conversation we cover the teaching topics that will be taught that year. We also cover all the big events, friends’ nights, winter camps and our spring service focus. The other portion of the weekend is spent on spiritual formation and leadership development. Of course, there is a fun component to the weekend. A couple things we have done are stay in a local hotel that has a pool, and stay overnight at the church and play somewhere fun during the day. Bottom line is be creative in what you do to build some team unity.
Over the course of the year we generally meet twice a month. During these meetings we cover a multitude of things, but usually one of those above mentioned three areas gets the bulk of the time. We focus on spiritual formation, where we spend some time covering a passage of Scripture or developing a spiritual habit. We also look at leadership development where we cover topics such as serving, integrity and time management. The third area that will get primary time is youth ministry programming. This is where we plan events, talk about the health of the group, or where I will bounce ideas off the team.
Next is our spring retreat, which is more of a team service project. We spend the weekend together serving and planning our summer. We have gone to a camp we partner with and done work, and volunteered at one of our other campuses.
The year finishes with a trip to Doug Fields Student Leadership Conference in California. This is a great trip with time to celebrate all God has done the past year and to spend some time talking about leadership and our own youth ministry.
There are a couple of things that I always want to make sure are happening in our student ministry.
- Students have a chance to lead. I don’t mean only sitting around and talking about leading, but to actually release ministry to them.
- I want them to learn to ask good questions.
Any given mid-week service you will find students leading most everything that is happening in our gathering. From welcoming, games, skits and announcements, it is all student led. I love watching them grow into these roles. Some kids are not up-front type students, so finding places for them to serve is equally important. From sound, lights, prayer team, to set-up and clean-up, getting students involved in the ministry has huge results. We also encourage our students to serve the whole church through being on a prayer team, welcoming, clean-up, children’s ministry, etc. This helps them see church beyond the four walls of the youth room. We also try and equip them to serve outside of church. We encourage them to look for ways to bring beauty into their world at home, school, the sports field and more.
Another important area in developing student leaders, really all students, is teaching them to ask good questions. Jesus was a great example of this. He often would answer a question with a question. See Luke 10:25-27 for a great example. We want our students to know that there is no wrong question when it comes to them developing their theology. Our desire is to create space within our ministry where students can wrestle with the big issues of faith, salvation, justice, sexuality, creation, etc. But this asking good questions is more than just about our faith. If they can learn to ask good questions and not always assume they alone have the best answer, this will help them in their future careers and relationships. We want to develop an attitude of learning in the students. We desire to show them that even with our faith, beyond what we would say are the essentials, they would learn to approach ministry with open hands and hearts, be willing to grow, and maybe even change a position on a certain topic when they are show something in a new light.
Nick Steinloski is the Student Ministries Pastor at Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA. During his ten years on staff the church has grown to six campuses. With 25 years of youth ministry experience Nick continues to be passionate about reaching and equipping students.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.