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How To Develop Student Leaders in Your Youth Ministry

We need a better way to develop student leaders. One that doesn’t revolve around stacking chairs, but actually engages a student’s developing brains around the cultural, spiritual, and leadership issues of today.

 Youth ministry’s historical attempt at student leadership tends to lean toward one format.

Usually, we ask the most faithful attendees to join a leadership group.

 More times than not, that’s code for “the scope of your leadership will be relegated to helping our youth ministry be better.”

If I can be completely honest, our student leadership programs tend to devolve to 

“set up these chairs”

“fold these t-shirts”

“make these announcements”

When you mention being a spiritual leader to most teenagers and youth leaders, preaching, singing, leading worship and being a missionary immediately come to mind.

By default, we have helped students become better at doing church.

But becoming a leader in an ever-changing culture? That is another story.

Develop The Right Mission

So, what world are you fueling your students to lead in?

Maybe we, the church, youth ministry America, have sold a less-than-inspiring, underwhelming story? 

But what if we fuel the next generation to understand how to navigate a world where race, sexuality, equality, financial integrity, politics, education, technology, business, entertainment, and yes, even ministry and the Church are in a constant state of flux?

What if we help high school students to develop a worldview that doesn’t see culture as an enemy but their platform?

What if we challenge high school students to inject themselves into highly challenging roles and scenarios not only with their faith community but on their respective campuses, in their communities, with their peers? 

What if we assign high school students to short-term, high-importance task teams? What if we give them real-time feedback as they experience and learn?

What if we provide mentors from non-church-centric spheres of influence who believe in the next generation and their desire to be influential and offer them relevant and practical principles and truths that help shape their worldview and leadership capacity? 

What if every senior graduated with at least a personal mission statement and three next steps towards the best version of the person God created them to be?

And what if we could help them start connecting the dots with their passion, gift set, and their purpose for existence?

Here are a few places to start.

Choose A Format

We need a better way to develop student leaders. One that doesn’t revolve around stacking chairs, but actually engages a student’s developing brains around the cultural, spiritual, and leadership issues of today.

To be honest, we also need to engage these students in a way that doesn’t create a competing program or look like yet another new ministry to manage.

Here’s how we’ve translated these ideas at INFLUNSR. Take these ideas and apply them to your own program, or partner with us for your weekly content and student leadership programming. 

Identify Values That Count 

Every week, we expound on one of the five choices of the “code of influence” — our values of student leadership. We believe leadership is a choice, not a position. We think influence is the sum total of thousands of choices made over time, or as we like to say, “Influence is built in a thousand invisible mornings.”

Here are the five choices:

  • Integrity is choosing to be defined by what is true.
  • Humility is choosing first to go last.
  • Courage is choosing love over fear.
  • Excellence is choosing to create a better future by going the second mile.
  • Grit is choosing passion over distraction.

Choosing and encouraging these five values will give your each student in your youth ministry leadership program a vision for who they can be, instead of just identify what they do.    

Build A Strategy and Rhythm That Works

Every Friday of every week, we text out culture-current content — developmentally designed to inform and mobilize leadership and influence potential — directly to select high school students, the parents or guardians of those students, mentors, and you, the youth leader, via email and text message.

The first Friday of every month features an interview. It’s a 8-10 minute interview with a non-church-centric culture leader discussing how the code of influence manifests itself in real life, in real-time, in their sphere of influence. 

The second Friday of every month we use an obscure and coded story from history, culture, or current events to reinforce the code of influence and spark thought and conversation.  

The third Friday of every month, we encourage student leaders to watch a movie, inspirational and educational presentations, read articles, and do boots-on-the-ground projects in their community, with the goal being to spark conversation and application.

The fourth Friday of every month is focused on parents, mentors, and you, the youth leader. It should help youth leaders, parents, and mentors enable students to understand and apply their learning.

So, that’s our strategy!

You could create this content yourself, or you could partner with INFLUNSR and we’ll deliver timely, culture-current right to your leaders.

Activate Leadership Outside Church Walls

I’ll leave you with one final thought.

It isn’t that difficult to love and lead like Jesus within the four walls of the church. Or on foreign soil, where no one knows you, serving on a mission trip.

Somehow we have decided that the teenager who leads worship, plays an instrument, has surrendered to full-time Christian ministry as a vocation, goes on mission trips, and/or religiously serves in the church in some capacity loves Jesus most.

But your high schoolers in their specific real-time, real-world context? That becomes a completely different, sobering story. That is where the stakes are highest. That is where your students really have something to lose. 

Influence has nothing to do with something you do. Influence has everything to do with someone you are. 

Influence is this magnetic relational pull generated by an inner being that burns to matter. Influence is really about choosing to be a person of…

Integrity, humility, excellence, grit, and courage. 

And you have high school students who want to make the choice to be influencers.

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