Raising leaders the real-world way
The next generation of youth workers is sitting in your youth room-here’s how to find and develop your core team
“Student leadership? Isn’t that just another ‘strategy’ I’m supposed to be doing? Just another reason to work harder than I already am?”
Well, yes and no. Jesus is our example for ministry “strategies,” and he spent much of his time developing young leaders. Of course it takes work, but the fruits are sweet. A well-entrenched youth leadership team will actually take pressure off you, and lead to greater impact in your ministry.
So how do you build your leadership core? Do we, like Jesus, walk into a McDonald’s restaurant and ask two kids working the fry cooker to “Come, follow me”? I can guess what happens next: “And they left their fry baskets at once and followed him.”
Well, you can try it that way. Or you can try something a little more… doable.
1. Select prospective leaders.
Many youth workers choose student leaders in a vacuum. I mean, they select kids who outwardly look like leadership material. And that works, mostly. The problem is that God doesn’t choose leaders this way. We miss good prospects because we fail to see past outward characteristics. The prophet Samuel selected David as Israel’s king, not his more “qualified” brothers. He said, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
That’s why I like to ask teenagers to apply for our leadership team. I tell kids about the opportunity several weeks in advance–all they have to do is ask me for an application.1
I require all students interested in leadership training to find a Christian mentor they can meet with weekly. They get a “Will You Be My Mentor?” form to give to an adult to fill out. This explains the commitment requirements and asks a few questions about the mentor’s faith so I can evaluate if it’s a good match. That form is due with the Student Leadership Application.
The Student Leadership Application isn’t just a simple name– and-address form. It gives an overview of the program and outlines the team’s requirements and expectations. Requirements include regular church and youth group attendance, modeling a healthy commitment to family, personal growth through Bible study and prayer, a weekly meeting with an adult mentor, and so on. Expectations include two hours a week working on a service team, weekly training meetings, and so on.
I include these requirements and expectations along with a detailed application that has several questions about the student’s faith life and skills.2
2. Choose your team.
After teenagers turn in their applications, I filter them through a staff review, then set up interviews with each one. In the interviews, I listen for their heart and narrow down the leadership roles that might fit them. These interviews help us screen out kids who shouldn’t be leaders.
Once I had an applicant who showed great leadership skills. The other kids loved him, he was popular on campus, and he was great up front. But this kid couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He was always getting into fights, mouthing off to staffers, or just being disruptive. The bottom line was that he didn’t meet one of our leadership team requirements: “To live a lifestyle befitting one who is a role model and an ambassador of Christ.”
I hate turning kids away who want to be on the team. That’s why I set up such a stringent application and interview process. Any student who fills out the application, gets a weekly mentor, and agrees to the time commitment is basically in. But when you get someone like the guy I just described, you can use the interview process to talk with him or her about the problem and lay out a plan to work on it. The end goal is to move the person toward “joining the team.” It’s an incredible motivator for life change.
3. Slot kids into leadership roles.
It’s good to create complementary leadership roles for your kids-from administering outreach programs to maintaining your student database to leading Bible studies. The more roles you create, the better chance you’ll see all your leadership kids blossom.
Use a method to discover your kids’ gifts and strengths. Some youth workers give their teenagers a spiritual gifts test.3 Others get the information they need during the interview process. There’s no “right way” to do it. Just make sure the role basically matches the personality.
4. Plan a leadership retreat.
Once we have our team together, I like to kick off the year with a Student Leadership Retreat. I use this time to lay the groundwork for the ministry we’ll be doing all year.
It’s tempting to use your retreat time to show kids how to plan programs, lead games, and run events. But that’s not what Jesus emphasized in his training. Early on (in the Sermon on the Mount), he taught his disciples foundational truths about leadership–money, status, and power aren’t important; righteousness, meekness, humility, integrity, and compassion are important.
I also use my leadership retreats for team-building. We string a rope about five feet above the ground between two trees, then challenge our kids to get everyone over the rope as if it were an electric fence. I don’t give any other instructions. The group works together to accomplish the challenge.
5. Plan regular training meetings.
After your retreat, you’ll need regular student leadership gatherings to challenge, affirm, and equip your kids. Plan time for them to build relationships, pray, and encourage each other. Then add bite-size training tips that kids can use that week. You might also need to plan additional time for individual ministry teams to meet.
As you develop your leaders, you’ll be rewarded coming and going. You get important ministry tasks covered, and they experience the incredible joy that comes when you’re making a difference for God. Believe me, the work is worth it.
1 Because I ask kids to go through a ministry staffer or me to get a leadership team application, we weed out kids who aren’t all that motivated to serve.
2 For samples of the forms I use, check out my new book, The Top 12 Resources Youth Workers Want (Gospel light Publishing). You can get a peak at the book on my Web site-www.thesourcefym.com. And you can order it right from the site.
3 Consider giving your kids a spiritual gifts inventory-get one by calling the Church Growth Institute at 800-553-GROW or by going to www.churchgrowth.org.
Jonathan McKee is a longtime youth minister who worked for Youth For Christ in California. He now directs The Source for Youth Ministers-a popular online resource for youth leaders. He’s also a contributing editor
for group. This article is drawn from Jonathan’s new book The Top 12 Resources Youth Workers Want (Gospel Light-it’s available at www.thesourcefym.com.
Copyright Group Publishing, Inc. Nov/Dec 2002
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