“Doug: I hear you talk about the guys in your small group and I’m wondering how you help them become student leaders. Do you just have them read your book or is there a more intentional process?” Jake (Bellevue, WA)

Great question! While some youth ministry experts don’t believe it’s a good thing for us to develop student leaders (adds to the their already existing pressures), it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of developing student leaders and helping them explore their giftedness and serve in ministry.

General: Two practical ways that I’ve tried to champion and/or assist teenagers in developing their leadership are: (1) My book called, “Help! I’m a Student Leader” and, (2) I host a Student Leadership Conference during the summer (West Coast…and…East Coast). These may or may not help you…so, let me get more specific.

Specific: Let me be clear that my actions are not this formulaic, but these steps will give you an idea of what I’ll typically try to do in identifying and developing a relationship with a teenager and testing their leadership potential:

1. I identify teenagers whom seem to gravitate toward either serving and/or seem influential or active. Rarely does a teenager possess all three of those attributes.

2. I look for a positive attitude and listen to how they talk about their peers, their school, their activities, the youth ministry, and Jesus.

3. After identifying a few of these types of students, I’ll typically take a risk and ask them to help me with some project: set-up at church, message prep, cleaning my garage, running errands for camp. This helps me gauge interest-level and also allows me to spend “extra” time with them.

4. As the relationship develops, I’ll regularly invite them to do more projects, errands, or ministry tasks (i.e. hospital visitation, contact work—going to another kid’s game, etc…)

5. I’ll usually ask this teenager to take on an important responsibility for me (without me). As I write this, I’m away on a speaking engagement and called one of my 10th grade guys and asked if he would play the “host” to our weekly Bible Study to make sure everything goes okay. He was thrilled.

6. Most teenagers are honored to be asked to help out. It’s a statement of value, belief, and friendship. Ask, invite, repeat. Every kid likes to be invited somewhere. I tell youth pastors, invite some teenagers to our Student Leadership Conference—it’s not for everyone—but invite a few and see what happens.

7. Follow-up, debrief the experience with the teenager and see what he/she learned along the way.

8. Encourage! Thank them! Show them that you’re not using them to help you get your work done, but you’re so excited to see them use their gifts and their time to do something with Kingdom impact.

9. Resource them. If you sense that there is interest for more growth, give them books to read (Help! I’m a Student Leader), blogs to visit (LeaderTreks.com), or occasionally send them an occasional (“I read this and thought you might get something out of it.”)

10. Ask again! I’ve seen a teenager go from being in charge of the church van keys (on a trip) one year to helping plan the trip the next year, to running the trip the following year.

Again, I put numbers by these to help me think thru and communicate some actions, but it’s never this formulaic. But, it will give you a better understanding of what I’ll typically do with teenagers.

I believe teenagers are waiting to be asked to participate… they want to be involved in making a difference. I’m not suggesting you stress them out, just believe they are capable and invite them to taste different elements of ministry.

Question: what do you do to help teenagers develop their leadership potential? Share it here.

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