Every time I’ve tried to formalize a student leadership “program” it turns out just “okay.” It’s never been great, it always gets some momentum when I start it and restart it, but it doesn’t deliver what I dreamt up on the whiteboard. I think it’s because I focused on a building a team of players more than getting the team members into the game. Today, I get much more excited about a non-program style of leadership development process. Now, I just want to get kids into the service funnel.

I’ve written this week about the mental progression that I go thru when thinking about developing leaders:

(1) I’ve got broaden my definition of what a leader is,

(2) paint a picture of who they could become,

(3) be specific with that picture, and

(4) give them serving opportunities.

Teenagers need to “taste” serving, they want to do something that is making a difference, and they’re more than capable of succeeding in the service opportunities we identify. A common hurdle keeping them from service is when we don’t take the time to identify service opportunities, or assign all of them to adults.

All during my youth ministry, I coached my own kids’ sports’ team until they got into high school. As a coach I quickly learned that a kid may have thought he was a shortstop, or a parent wanted their kid to be the QB, but the bottom line to figuring out what they were really good at (and enjoyed) was to give them playing time and the freedom to play. That principle transfers to developing student leaders. The kids in your ministry need playing time, they need to experiment, step across the line and move from sitting to serving. That’s it…just get them in the game.

Why I like the term “service funnel” is because of the visual image is helpful for people to grasp (wide opening at the top that narrows toward the bottom). At the top of service funnel are several “entry-level” service opportunities. As you move toward the bottom, the opportunities become more risky, time-consuming, and sacrificial. The challenge for youth workers is to identify the opportunities, make them known, and then start casting vision for teenagers to “get in the game” and start “playing” with service.

My 19 year-old son is serving in Kenya, Africa for 7 months working with children living on the street and sniffing glue. After his first semester he abandoned the safety of his college plan because he felt called to do something radical for God. That type of sacrifice, time, and risk is bottom of the funnel. He’s serving there because he tasted dozens of entry-level serving opportunities during junior high and high school. Serving was a value that he heard over and over. His volunteer small group leaders cast vision that he was a leader and challenged him to lead thru service that lead thru a microphone and stage time.

Some questions to think about:

  • Are you serious about developing student leaders?
  • Have you articulated service opportunities within your church (not just within your youth group)?
  • Do your teenagers know about them?
  • Are service and leadership synonymous within your church culture?
  • Are their “jobs” that adults are doing that teenagers could be doing?
  • Are adult leaders on the look-out for opportunities to cast a specific vision of how a teenager can serve?

Get em in the game and see what God does.

This is my first blog “series”…give me some feedback. Was it helpful? Too focused? Is variety better? Wearing my learner’s hat.