Student Leadership in Youth Ministry
Youth pastors and youth workers work hard daily in local student ministries to impact teenagers lives. If you work with teenagers, you know that your job is thankless, but let me encourage you with these words: You are impacting the students in your ministry daily.
I do not know your context, but in my context in Hillsborough, NC I am the youth pastor who works with both middle and high school ministries weekly. I love it, but one thing I noticed over the years of serving in every church is that I cannot do it alone. I have amazing volunteers and leaders who daily and weekly invest in students. I have always said my ministry could not run efficiently without volunteer youth workers. If you are a volunteer youth worker, please know your job is important to the ministry where you serve.
Along with volunteers in student ministry, I realized the importance of student leadership in youth ministry. I would say a student ministry must establish student leaders for other students to buy into the purpose of student ministry. Let’s look at two different categories of student leadership I have discovered over 14 years of ministry.
Negative Student Leaders
The positional leader seeks the leadership role within the student ministry because they want to have power. A positional leader seeks power and intends to serve as a leader to boss students around and see the position as a way to get what they want. You can identify this leader because when you interview them, they will share about how they want to lead over areas and want to make changes right away. The positional leader also will share they want to have people look up to them as a leader (said in a non-humility setting of the interview process).
The popular leader seeks a leadership position because they seek popularity. They do not see the position through a lens of humility, service and ministry, but rather to gain popularity. You can identify this leader through the reason for being a leader. I have noticed they share about how they want to find friends and let people know that they are serving in the role of a student leader.
Community Service leader
The community service leader intends to lead because they want to put in the community service hours for their school. They will ask you how many hours they put in that week because they need to keep track to serve in clubs in their school. The community service leader never actually serves or buys into the mission. They are just looking to get their community service hours checked off, and then check out when hours are done. You can identify this leader by asking them their purpose and reasoning for serving. They will ask you if they get community service hours for serving as a leader.
Disclaimer- Those who are in the negative student leaders category can be discipled and mentored to become Positive Student Leaders.
Positive Student Leaders
The missional leader sees their leadership role as a ministry or mission field. The missional leader seeks to serve God by leading in the student ministry. Missional leaders want to build relationships with students and see their school as a mission field. I have found that missional leaders normally have leadership roles in their school’s Christian club (FCA, PHISH Club, Bible Club, etc.).
The servant leader serves through humility. They do not seek popularity or their names to be glorified. Instead, servant leader creates plans and ways to reach and impact students in the ministry. The servant leader is a core student or a dedicated student serving because of their relationship with God. I have identified them by asking them questions about why they want to serve, the goal for serving and their mission as a leader. Sit back and then take in their answers for serving. Their answers will encourage you as a youth worker.
Buy in leader
The buy in leader serves because they have heard your why for doing ministry and they have bought in completely to your vision and purpose. The buy in leader does not always know what it will take or how you will get there, but they have bought in and are on board no matter the cost. I love every positive leader, but the buy in leaders encourage me greatly. They know you want juniors and seniors investing in middle schoolers and underclassmen, so they just start a Bible study and invite the students to come and hang out. They will serve as encouragers and cheerleaders, but they also will get into the craziness of ministry because they know the end goal.
The Process & Tips
In order to find student leaders, I have steps I take if I have interested students. I have an interview process that they go through, and they have to get permission from our staff and their family before they serve. I get the family’s permission because parents may say no because they do not think their child can handle it or has time to offer. I get the staff’s permission because you want your staff to have your back and buy into each leader. I know there are possibly different leader groups you may have, but these three are the main ones I see in ministry. I think other leaders fall into these categories. I would encourage every ministry no matter their size to seek after finding student leaders.
I seek out to only have junior and seniors serve as leaders. Many different reasons why, but the main one I have found, is that you want your leaders to be able to meet students after school and by having the ability to drive they can meet with students easier when they can drive. I have a sheet with prerequisites on it, and I would encourage you to meet with your staff in your student ministry and create the prerequisites you want students to have. Our students have an application. The final thing is be patient with the leaders as they learn to lead. It’s time students lead their ministries.
SCOTT TALLEY has been doing youth ministry for 13 years. He serves at Ebenezer Baptist in Hillsborough, NC as the Pastor of Students. Talley has studied and written on youth ministry and received his Doctorate in Global Mobilization at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Talley seeks to help fellow youth pastors reach teenagers with the Gospel, while also engaging students to make disciples locally and internationally.
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.