How Student Leadership Has Evolved In My Church

Steve Cullum
January 29th, 2020

Student leadership can be one of the most divisive parts of a youth ministry. I have seen several great youth groups torn apart by implementing a student leadership team. On the other hand, I have also seen some adequate ministries really take off after they empowered students to lead. 

I do not know if there is one proper way to do student leadership, but I do believe it is necessary for many reasons. It helps students feel more connected to the church. They often feel more apt to invite their friends. It prepares them to lead not only as teens but also as adults. The youth pastor and team can multiply their efforts through the students. This list could go on and on, but again, I do not think there is just one way of doing student leadership.

With all that in mind, here are three ways student leadership has evolved in my church over the past few years:

No Leadership Team 

When I stepped into my current ministry, many of the older students and volunteer leaders asked what my thoughts on a student leadership team were. I was intrigued by this, especially because I knew the youth group had been through several youth pastors over the years. As I dug a little deeper, I realized that there used to be a leadership team that had great ambitions, but it also made a good chunk of the other students feel left out. We decided to not put another team in place right away. I am not sure if we will eventually form a team again, but for now, we do not have what many would call a “Student Leadership Team.”

All Students are Leaders

In light of the previous move to not have a separate team and because of what I believe the New Testament says, we have raised the bar for all students. Instead of just asking the special team to lead, we now encourage all students to lead. Some students could fill in for me if I am gone, but others will lead out as a guitar player or door greeter. Still others will lead out in their school clubs and teams. Rather than expecting leadership to just come from the student leadership team, we share that expectation with all of our students. This helps them all to feel empowered.

Creating Leadership Labs 

We all know how busy students are in today’s world. I felt like I was busy in high school, but teenagers today have at least twice the activities and expectations I did. And our students with the most leadership potential are usually even more overwhelmed, because they are already leading—in their schools, teams, clubs, etc. Doug Franklin of Leadertreks has a great solution. (If you are not familiar with Leadertreks, you should make it a point to check out their website right after you finish reading this.) He suggests we establish Leadership Labs: Short-term leadership opportunities with a clear goal for students gifted to accomplish it. For example, we formed a small team of students who want to plan a big summer outreach event. They had an adult leader who worked with them for a set number of weeks to help them plan and execute the event. She provided assistance throughout the planning and afterward for evaluation. We are also trying to form better relationships between our adult ministry teams and our students, so they could have mentors pouring into them. Just imagine a student band (which can be a leadership lab) who all had members of the church’s main worship team helping them with their particular instrument. And then, when they are ready, they could join that team too and already have connections with the adults on that team.

I do not even pretend to have student leadership fully figured out yet. I honestly do not know if I ever will. What I do know is that, just like youth ministry as a whole, it has to change over time. The principles are still the same—to help equip and empower students to lead out in the church and in the world—but the methods will continue to evolve.

Steve Cullum

Steve Cullum is the student pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, CO, where he oversees their ministry to sixth through twelfth grade students and their families. He also hosts The Student Ministry Podcast and volunteers for the National Network of Youth Ministries. You can follow him on Twitter @stevecullum.

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