Every now and then we’re fortunate to gather wise youth ministry minds together and ask them to reflect on a REALLY BIG QUESTION. Recently, we tossed a couple big questions about student leadership at for youth ministry veterans. Here’s what they said…
How can youth workers develop and nurture student leaders?
Tiger McLuen: Kids don’t dream because in their world, they have to be really good at stuff. So, dream with them. Ask, “Have you ever thought of..?” Encourage them, “Let’s try this and see what God does.” Create opportunities. Don’t make the mistake of thinking leadership has to be up front. None of us should give student leadership roles without giving student servant roles and behind-the-scenes work.
Steve Saccone: Ask questions and listen. Come alongside them, hear their stories, and draw out their uniqueness. Help them get in touch with their deeper motivations.
Duffy Robbins: Be a student of leadership yourself. Continue to nurture your own intimacy with Christ. Communicate your vision and values. Be willing to reflect, think and process. Give good, sound instruction. Spend time together just as Jesus did with the guys in whom He invested His life.
Denise VanEck: Leadership development is a process that involves presence, patience and lots of good coaching. There’s an art to it, but it’s one of the most incredible privileges in this life. Youth ministry programs are great places for students to practice leading. The key is seeing ministry as opportunities to provide practice, with the real deal being the real world. Too often, student leadership programs see themselves as the point and the day-to-day lives of students as competition for ministry time. It’s the opposite.
YWJ: As student leaders are developed, what roles can they fulfill?
Steve Saccone: I’m all for releasing people in leadership but to the measure of their spiritual maturity. There has to be a healthy dose of supervision—even at the ages of 16 and 17. Adults should still be there, willing to jump in if needed. Let students know, “This isn’t about being wrong. It’s about your journey of leading. Let’s correct it if necessary.”
Duffy Robbins: They can do all kinds of stuff. Start with physical responsibilities such as setting up chairs and cleaning up. Ultimately, direct them to spiritual responsibilities such as leading small groups or discipling younger kids. I’m influenced by Chap Clark and his worry about student leadership that’s about giving the ministry to kids and getting out of the way because it’s their group. Chap marks that as another kind of abandonment. That kind of student leadership is counter-productive. Kids aren’t interested in that any more—if they ever were.
Denise VanEck: For any leader, growth happens when they are challenged with just a bit more than they can handle, get coaching and support to stretch out as far as they can to meet that challenge, and have a safe place to get feedback.
Tiger McLuen is president of Youth Leadership, an organization that trains and equips leaders, and author of The Student Leadership Training Manual. A popular conference speaker and adjunct faculty member at Bethel Seminary, Tiger has a passion for developing leaders.
As director of staff development at The Highway Community, Steve Saccone spends much of his time developing next-generation leaders. He’s author of Protégé: Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders.
Youth ministry veteran Duffy Robbins is a respected speaker and youth ministry professor at Eastern University. He is author of numerous books, including his latest, Building a Youth Ministry that Builds Disciples: A Small Book About a Big Idea.
As a youth worker, Denise Van Eck trained about 75 student leaders a year using a curriculum that’s been published as Leadership 101: An Interactive Leadership Development Guide for Students. Now working as a church consultant, she continues to help others develop healthy leadership structures.