Yesterday I wrote about identifying student leadership and broadening our definition to include Jesus’ description of servanthood and leadership.

Today I want to share the primary action that I take in developing teenage leaders. It’s both simple and mysterious at the same time.

I use words. Intentional words!

I try to paint a verbal picture of what I envision in a teenager’s life. I think the reason this is my default leadership development action is because it’s what my youth pastor (Jim Burns) did to me. When I was a teenager, he shocked me with words, “Doug, I think God has great plans for you as a leader…I don’t know what they are, but I know you’re going to be a leader who God uses.” Honestly, I don’t believe Jim was being prophetic, rather he was being encouraging and understood the power of well-timed and genuine words.

Jim’s words became a visual portrait of what I do and who I could be. He painted potential with his words.

For many years I gave Jim the credit for being so wise with his words until I realized that he simply copied what Jesus did with Simon. You remember the event, where Jesus looked past Simon’s big-mouthed, misadventures and gave him a new name: Peter, Petros, Rock. I’ve got to imagine that some of the disciples heard Jesus declare that name and think to themselves, “Really? Rock? How about calling him Pebbles or Sandy? That would be more accurate.”

Jesus saw something in Simon that he didn’t see in himself and that fisherman became a rock-solid leader in the Jerusalem church.

Let’s get practical and turn this to you. Can you see yourself putting a caring arm around one of your students and saying…

  • “I’ve been watching you. You have an amazing heart! I believe God can use that heart for his purposes.”
  • “I love how you treat people. I see you being a man/woman of God who deeply cares for people. That’s an amazing gift you have to offer others.”
  • “I’ve noticed how comfortable you are in serving in the small ways. I really appreciate and believe that God uses that type of servanthood to impact others. He will use you.”

Whatever it is that you say, you don’t say it just once. You repeat it, rephrase it, return to similar but different words that let the teenager know you are sincere and excited about their future.

The intention isn’t for this to be forced, programmed or insincere. Look toward those who are serving (remember yesterday’s post) and begin to paint a potential that they can grasp and begin to move toward.

[By the way, I think this is more than student leadership material, I think it’s good parenting too.] More tomorrow!

Good comments yesterday…thanks. Chime in. What are your thoughts about the power of words?