GUEST POST by Jonathan McKee. Jonathan has become a regular guest blogger on this site! He is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, as well as youth ministry books like Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. You can find his excellent blog here.

Student Leaders, Student Leadership Team, Student Leadership Conference… youth workers have heard the term “student leaders” so many times that we’re numb to it.

But what do students hear?

Take Keri, for example. Keri is a junior in high school and she’s as shy as they come. She has an amazing relationship with the Lord, and she’s one of the most hospitable students I’ve ever met. Only one problem: she doesn’t see herself as a “leader.”

No, it’s not poor self-esteem, it’s not a lack of faith… it’s semantics. When Keri hears the word “leader” she thinks of the person who rises up in front of the group and casts vision and direction. After all, that’s how her dad, a successful executive in the business world, defines it.

Keri isn’t alone. What about Anthony? Anthony put his trust in Christ a few years ago and has been disciple by an amazing youth worker who has encouraged Anthony in his gifts. Anthony loves anything technical. He does computer editing, sound mixing… you name a skill with something electronic and he probably can do it. He’s right out of the sitcom, The Big Bang Theory (minus the sleeping with a girl across the hall).

But Anthony doesn’t consider himself a “leader.” The last thing Anthony wants to do is stand up in front of the group and speak or lead a Bible Study. That’s how Anthony sees “leading.”

Have we been doing something wrong?

Not at all. This is simple semantics. Both Anthony and Keri both want to use their gifts to do ministry. They’d both love to serve on that team in their church where students serve and use their gifts. It just so happens that we typically call that the “student leadership team.”

Perhaps we should rethink how we present this opportunity for teenagers to do ministry. Some of our students won’t necessarily sign up for our “student leadership team.” We need to affirm them and personally invite them to help us “do ministry.”

My friend David and I have wrestled with this more than you can imagine. A couple of years ago we tackled writing the next “student leadership” book for Youth Specialties. The only problem? We didn’t really want to call it “student leadership.” Why?

Keri and Anthony.

David and I just wanted to provide youth workers with some practical ideas and some detailed “how to’s” to develop teenagers with a passion for ministry. We wanted youth workers to be able to help kids like Keri and Anthony grow in their faith, discover their God-given strengths and use them for ministry. We call that, Ministry By Teenagers.

Call it what you want to… I don’t think it matters that much. Just make sure you don’t miss the potential in the Keri’s and Anthony’s in your group.

Question: How do you define “student leader?” Share your thoughts here.

If you like this article, you’ll love Jonathan’s book, Ministry By Teenagers.

Also, if you’re interested in joining us for our Student Leadership Conference this summer…go here. We’re looking for kids like Keri & Anthony. We don’t want your whole youth group to come…just the ones you choose.

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