During my first year in youth ministry, the thing I looked for most in student leaders was spiritual maturity.

Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding teens who you could call spiritually mature.

This makes sense when you realize high school teens are still developing in every way – including by growing in their faith.

Having realized that, I no longer think spiritual maturity is the most important thing to look for in student leaders. Instead, I now look for these 6 things:

A growing relationship with Jesus. Rather than look for teens who are spiritually mature, I want student leaders who are actively growing in their relationship with Jesus. This is, in part, because of where teens are developmentally. It’s also because teens consistently tell me that being on our leadership team is the thing that had the most impact on their faith during high school. As a result, a teen’s desire to grow in their faith is now far more important to me than how “spiritually mature” they are when they apply.

Teachability. When it comes to student leadership, the worst mistake I ever made was putting a teen on our team who had his own agenda. This was a kid who knew what youth group was supposed to be. Unfortunately, his definition differed drastically from mine. So we spent the year battling each other. This experience taught me that student leaders have to be teachable. They have to come in with an open mind, willing to learn all they can about their faith, leadership, and youth ministry. To this end, I’ve often found that the best student leaders are the ones who come in a little unsure of themselves, more confident in their willingness to learn than in their ability to lead. Such teens are moldable, eager to learn, and willing to accept feedback that helps them become better leaders.

Commitment. Since you can’t influence people you don’t know, student leaders have to be committed to your youth ministry. For this reason, when choosing student leaders, I look for teens who are active in our ministry and beyond that, who engage in our ministry whenever they’re present. Additionally, since youth ministry is but one part of a larger church, I also look for teens who are involved not just in the youth ministry, but in the church as a whole.

A servant’s-heart. Since Jesus modeled servant-leadership, when choosing student leaders, I look for teens with a servant-heart. Servant-hearted teens are often those who shy away from the spotlight but who can be found after an event, rearranging chairs or picking up trash. Teens with a servant-heart also tend to get excited about service projects. They’re aware of the marginalized in any setting and eager to talk with those who others often ignore.

The willingness to take risks. Failure produces growth. For this reason, when choosing student leaders, I look for teens who are willing to take risks. To be clear, I don’t want student leaders to be reckless. I do, however, want student leaders to regularly step out of their comfort zone because when they do, they’ll be forced to depend on God in news ways. I also want student leaders who aren’t content with doing things the way we’ve always done them. This requires a willingness to experiment, even if we – or they – fail.

A positive attitude. Student leaders set the tone for your ministry. For this reason, I look for teens who are positive to serve as student leaders. I want to know that even when plans go awry, my student leaders will be flexible; That they’ll willing go with the flow and in the process, find God in unexpected places and ways.

What qualities or characteristics do you look for in student leaders?

Other posts in this series:

Student Leadership Team Basics: Why?

Student Leadership Team Basics: How to Choose Student Leaders

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