There are typically three ways to choose your youth ministry’s student leaders.
Vote. Similar to student council elections at school, peers elect those teens they want to be student leaders.
Select. The youth pastor or a team of people selects who they want to be student leaders and specifically asks those teens to serve in this role.
Apply. Applications are made available to everyone. Teens then complete an application. The youth pastor or a team of people then selects student leaders from that pool of applicants.
I’ve learned the hard way to avoid options 1 and 2. Here’s why.
Too often, using a peer vote to select your ministry’s student leaders leads to a popularity contest. As a result, you often end up with only one type of teen on your leadership team – extroverted cool kids. When this happens, leadership teams often become a clique unaware and unconcerned with those who aren’t their friends. This leaves teens in your ministry who don’t consider themselves extroverted or cool questioning whether or not they belong.
The opposite end of that spectrum – where youth pastors select their student leaders – is also flawed. As with peer votes, when youth pastors select their student leaders, they often end up with only one type of teen on their leadership team: Those who think and act like them. This not only leads to leadership team cliques but it also has the potential to turn into a personality cult – with you at the center of it. Additionally, it leads to the perception of favoritism. Those who aren’t student leaders assume that your favorite teens are those who are. This, in turn, can make teens who aren’t on your leadership team feel isolated or marginalized.
Because of those pitfalls, I use applications to select my student leaders.
Making applications available to anyone in your youth ministry who qualifies for leadership (more on that next week) invites all types of teens to become part of your leadership team. Often, those who apply to be student leaders will surprise you. My best student leaders are usually those who NEVER would have won a popularity vote. Sometimes they’re also teens who have flown under my radar and as a result, if left solely up to me, would likely not have been selected for leadership.
Leadership team applications also allow for self-selection. Being a student leader is both a privilege and a responsibility. Not every teen in your ministry is ready (or willing) to make the commitment leadership requires. To help ferret out those who aren’t yet ready for leadership, I ask short-answer questions on our ministry’s student leadership applications knowing that doing so will take teens time. Teens not yet ready for formal leadership roles will self-select out of this process because they’re unwilling to take the time or energy to complete the application. This often saves you from having to “cut” people from your leadership team while at the same time allowing you to see glimpses of teens’ hearts and potential. That, in turn, allows you to figure out how to use each person on your team well.
To be clear, choosing student leaders for your youth ministry isn’t easy.
Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be. After all, leadership isn’t easy,
But take it from me, using leadership team applications to select your student leaders is your best option for choosing leaders. Such a process will enable you to get to know applicants, choose leaders wisely, and create a team that’s not only serious about leadership, but that also more accurately reflects all the different types of students in your ministry.
Other posts in this series: