When I took my first job in youth ministry over a decade ago, the idea of building a student leadership team was everywhere – in books, magazines, and at conferences. Since then, however, student leadership seems to have gone out of fashion. Sure, there are a few voices who champion the idea of student leadership but I no longer feel as though it’s a standard part of most youth ministries.
For me, however, student leadership – and in particular, a student leadership team – is one of the most critical aspects of youth ministry. That’s why I’m going to spend the next several weeks here at Download Youth Ministry talking about the basics of student leadership.
To begin, let’s address this question:
With everything else you have to do as a youth pastor, why should you invest time and energy into a student leadership team?
Before I answer this question, let me correct a common misconception about student leadership.
As a youth pastor, a student leadership team will not save you time. Student leaders are NOT there to do your grunt work. They’re there to learn how to do ministry; They’re part of the saints we as leaders are called in Ephesians 4:12 to equip. Anything you do with student leaders will typically take you two, if not three times longer than it would take to do it yourself.
But it’s worth it because student leadership is fundamentally about discipling teens.
And discipleship ALWAYS takes time.
That, in a nutshell, is also why you should invest in a student leadership team. It gives you a powerful vehicle for discipling a group of teens. Leading others pushes teens out of their comfort zones in big and small ways. In the process, they learn to (or are forced) to depend on Jesus in ways they’ve never had to before. When that happens, their relationship with Jesus deepens. So, too, does their life of prayer.
When you view student leadership as discipleship, Jesus becomes your ultimate model for leadership. Part of your job, then, is to show teens how Jesus led not with power, but with service, and to challenge them to do the same. Your youth ministry may be the ONLY place teens ever learn that leadership is not about wielding power; It’s about using power and privilege to benefit those who have neither. As student leaders begin to understand this, they’ll begin examining issues of justice and how God might be calling them to be part of his kingdom work.
When you view student leadership as discipleship, you’ll entrust student leaders with real responsibilities. Real responsibilities show teens they matter in the life of your church; That their gifts are important to the body of Christ. Once teens have experienced this for themselves, it’ll become hard, if not impossible, for them to merely consume church. That, in turn, will make them an asset to any church they’re a part of.
In short, you should invest time and energy in a student leadership team because it’s a powerful vehicle for discipleship; Because it’s part of our calling as youth workers to equip others for ministry.
And because that’s true, then student leadership is more than just a passing fad. It’s a necessary component of youth ministry that’s good for your teens, your ministry, and the future of the church.