"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Training Student Leaders

Training Student Leadership: Professional Report (Part 4)

Steve Miller

 Chapter Five
Create an Environment for Growth

So you\'ve prayed, counted the cost and decided that God wants you to train leaders. In what kind of environment does leadership training flourish?

  • Model godly leadership. "A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40, cr. Philippians 4:9)

Of first priority is our own walk with God, because even though we point people to Jesus as the ultimate model, we are the closest model they may see in human flesh. "The more we as leaders look like Christ, the more our disciples will too." (Annette Gulick, Mexico)

Resist the temptation to use students to build your own kingdom. We must model a servant\'s heart with their best interests at heart. As the Apostle Paul spoke of himself and other leaders, "Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." (I Corinthians 4:13, cr. 1-13) If we train student leaders in order to become respected in the youth ministry world and to lead seminars, we\'ve missed the point and will provide a poor leadership model.

  • Provide an environment and program conducive for spiritual growth. "From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Ephesians 4:16)

From my experience, discipleship and leadership development are easier to develop in the context of a strong church or a movement of God. What student wants to develop leadership in a church that appears intent on heading nowhere? Argentine Gerardo _____ observes that you don\'t need leadership when nothing is happening. "An army moving forward needs leaders. An army standing still only needs sentinels and gravediggers."

Provide life-changing, relevant bible studies, heart-felt worship and outreaches that make a difference. In that context, leadership can flourish.

  • Talk about commitment and service as the normal Christian life. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)

"Drive a commitment culture and you\'ll get commitment," says Jim Brown (Ireland). He expects students to complete assignments prior to meetings so that the leaders facilitate discussion rather than lecture. This commitment culture motivates his students to train rigorously for missions to many countries each summer.

A paper written in Singapore, recently compared youth attending the local American, Japanese, and Singaporean schools. Students were asked, \'\'What is your greatest fear?\'\' The differences in the responses were thought provoking.

American students: Rejection from my friends
Japanese students: Loss of a parent to death
Singaporean students: Academic failure

(From Dave Livermore, international staff with Sonlife Ministries.) This leads me to think that developing a commitment culture among youth in Western and Western-influenced groups of youth would be especially important. If a significant number of influential students in a group think that sacrificial commitment is cool, then others will follow. Committed Christians will be viewed as normal Christians. In other countries, the parents or other factors may play a more dominant role.

Abraham Sahu creates a commitment culture in India by letting kids know up front that they may die for their faith.

As Michael Holt (USA) puts it, students in Western Culture are very busy with school, sports, etc. "I think we must challenge them to hear a higher calling, to be willing to pay a price bigger than touchdowns and popularity. We\'ll also have to deal with church leaders and parents about this."

One way to inspire a commitment culture where none exists would be to take some youth to visit a ministry where youth are involved, excited and leaving their mark.

  • Teach and Model shared leadership and ministry. (I Cor. 12:1-31) Lift up your students who are doing ministry. Praise them. Give them the credit due them. This helps create a "normal Christians do ministry" culture.

Tim and Annette Gulick (Mexico) bring capable college students to help them train youth leaders, thereby demonstrating the abilities of students. Jamie Jockwig (Youth Ministry International) takes teams of youth to other cultures to do ministry (demonstrating to churches that youth can lead) and to train the local youth in ministry skills.

  • Teach Leadership as Servanthood. "Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:26,27, cr. Matthew 23:13, John 13:12-17, I Pet. 4:10)

"Set, teach, and model a standard of "servant leadership" that will impact the students of your team." (Michael Holt, USA) This will keep youth from seeing a vast division between the "insider leaders" and "the rest of the youth group." Their "privileged status" is that they wash more feet than others.

I don\'t have to call a student a leader if he/she\'s a leader. You can spot leaders by the people following them.

Chapter Six
Train for Ministry

  • Select Your Trainees. - "One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles." (Luke 6:12,13)

Leaders are made, not born. If Abraham (better: Jesus through him) can make pastors out of uneducated slum kids, your squirmy middle schoolers can become leaders as well.

Some fear that if they single out the faithful few for leadership training, they\'ll be charged with favoritism. But our Master selected a few. I fear that we often sin against the committed by gearing all our programs to placate the luke-warm. "If you see someone feeding a grown person, you naturally assume the person is sick. Yet, church programs do just that instead of helping people move on to solid food." (Tim and Annette Gulick, Mexico)

Dave Cole (USA) avoids the charge of favoritism by announcing publicly, recruiting privately. In other words, he announces leadership training to the entire group of students so that nobody can say it\'s exclusive. But then he individually recruits the students he sees as potential leaders. (This technique would probably work better in cultures where students are very busy, like the suburban USA [studies plus activities] and Romania [overburdened with school work] than places like small towns in Italy where students want to come to all youth group meetings regardless of target, because there\'s nothing else to do.)

So what qualities do we look for in those we would train for leadership?

Michael Holt (USA) always looked for students who might have the gift of leadership. "But I also watched and prayed that the ones who did not seem to have the "gift" would catch a glimpse of what God could do in them if they would trust Him. I would give them responsibilities that would stretch them, put them under the pressure of leading and watch how they did. It usually went very well. And even if not so well, they could learn from the experience."

Michael looks for the classic FAT qualities: Faithful, Available and Teachable.

Dave Cole goes for those who seem to have the gift of leadership, whether they presently appear faithful or not. Since his training requires homework and personal disciplines, the unfaithful or unreliable either don\'t sign up or disqualify themselves by not maintaining the requirements. Ela Nemtsova (Ukraine) will effectively disciple a person one on one who may not at first appear to be spiritually interested. Spiritual interest blossoms later. (10) Troy Hatfield (USA) finds that requiring students to fill out an application for being on the praise team weeds out many kids. Although many express interest in his praise team, "I don\'t want to have someone on the team who\'s wishy-washy. I look at their failure to fill out the application as indicative of their commitment level." (11)


So while some youth workers try to discern faithfulness and a spiritual hunger prior to selection, others see the initial training process as a time to weed out the uncommitted.

[Exegetical Note: We should probably take a fresh look at II Timothy 2:2 in this regard. Rather than being a general statement on who to train or disciple, it seems to rather give a very specific challenge to Timothy to take men who 1) have already proven themselves as reliable and 2) you can envision them being able to pass on the corpus of truth to others. This verse may not be limiting at all who we\'re willing to train up spiritually (classic "discipleship," a la Dawson Trotman) or train for future leadership in ministries other than passing on that core corpus of the faith. (See end note 12)]

  • Start small, but start! (Jesus began with a few.)

Someone\'s thinking, "Since my youth aren\'t out planting churches and multiplying tons of cell groups, it just confirms my suspicion that I\'m a lousy youth minister." But remember, all that these stunning examples show is how student leadership looks in a few cultures around the world. It may look very different in your local context being led with your gift mix. Ela in Ukraine takes one student home after the youth meeting to build a relationship and go deeper. No big curriculum. No organizational chart. But her one-on-one kids inevitably end up training for full time ministry! (4) A youth leader in Costa Rica gets creative ministry ideas from students. Why not start this week by simply taking a few of your key students out to McDonalds (or to the rice patty) and asking them for their input on your youth ministry. Take notes. Value their input. Ask, "If you were in charge of the youth ministry, what would it look like?" Don\'t get defensive. Just learn from them and start building a trusting relationship. Now you\'re treating them like leaders and they\'re feeling ownership in the ministry.

  • Spend time with them. "He appointed twelve - designating them apostles - that they might be with him…." (Mark 3:14a)

Eric Ball (USA) says,

"I must spend time with them. I know you know this, but I am not just talking time developing skills, although that is important. I am talking time getting to know them, identify what their needs/issues are and from that point designing a method/plan of attack to develop them. No two people are at the same place, have the same skill levels, gifting, etc. I\'m speaking of time one-on-one as well as time with other current and potential leaders."

Also, especially in a new work situation, don\'t get impatient. "It takes time! Time modeling and sharing in loving relationships." (D.Z., Ecuador)

  • Invest your life. "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us." (I Thessalonians 2:8)

Michael Holt (USA) says the best principles of building leaders involve "investing your life into another person through love, prayer, concern, shared ministry opportunities, vulnerability, accountability, etc. In the book Connecting, Dr. Robert Clinton says the three essential criteria for building a mentoring relationship are 1) Attraction 2) Response 3) Accountability."

  • Have many, varied opportunities to serve. (See passages showing the great variety of spiritual gifts - Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, I Peter 4.)

My main applications from these gifts passages are:

1) All my students have at least one spiritual gift.

2) There are many, varied gifts.

3) All gifts, even the not-so-up-front ones, are essential to the proper working of the body.

4) Students are responsible to use their gifts.

Thus, as a leader/equipper of students, I need to help students find their gifts, help them find places to employ their gifts, train them and motivate them to serve. From my experience, offering varied service opportunities has helped more determine their gifts than giving spiritual gift analysis tests.

Eric Ball (USA) suggests that leaders start by identifying what they are asking students to do.

"If you, as the youth leader, are not able to be specific about what leadership looks like, acts like, how it spends its time, what results are expected - then don\'t ever expect your students to be able to do that for you. Set the vision of where you believe God wants your ministry to go, then make a list of functions in your group/ministry that need to be done in order for that vision to be accomplished. Then begin praying for God to raise up the students who can be trained to fulfill those functions."

Some specific ways to involve students in varied avenues of service:

1) When you see a need, find a student to help. I lead a small group of 10th graders who are extremely quiet. I think they\'d die if I put them in a teaching situation. But after finding that some of them had an interest in technology, I challenged them to build a Web ministry to strengthen the youth group and to minister to their friends. Their excitement was contagious! Some brainy middle school students helped me research my book, The Contemporary Christian Music Debate.

2) Brainstorm areas in which students can serve. Students can be research assistants for your messages, teachers, give testimonies, move chairs, clean or decorate rooms, greet people, lead worship, tutor students, pray for other students, etc. Get with students and adult leaders and see what all you come up with in your ministry and community.

3) Teach on Spiritual Gifts and let them sign in for their areas of interest. The Bible Study series "Where Do I Fit In?" (See "Legacy Lessons" at www.reach-out.org. People outside the USA sign in for the "scholarship" option.) includes a couple of lessons on the need to get involved with service. The volunteer ideas hand-out has scores of ideas for student involvement you could personalize for your ministry.

4) Help students evaluate their ministries. When students fail or their motivation sags, they may simply need encouragement, motivation and more training. For others, it\'s time to try another area of service. It\'s an ongoing process to match student\'s gifts and passions to appropriate ministries.

5) Program for student service. Highly successful NorthPoint Church (Metro Atlanta, Georgia, USA) decided to prioritize training students for regular ministry when they started the church. Yet, they knew that there would not be enough opportunities for youth to serve if their time was consumed with all the traditional programs that many churches offer for youth.

They thought creatively and decided that, from their experience, the hour long, Sunday Morning "Sunday School" wasn\'t doing an effective job of motivating or discipling students. So they didn\'t offer Sunday School for the high school students on Sunday mornings. Instead, high school youth come to church at 4:30 PM Sundays for fellowship, large-group worship and teaching, and training in small groups. The purpose is to motivate and train their students to live godly lives and to get involved in service, which takes place primarily on Sunday Mornings. They work closely with other adult leaders to involve youth in leading the Sunday Morning middle school ministry, teaching children, etc. Each Sunday morning about 150 high school (9th - 12th grades) students serve in the ministry of the church!

  • Provide regular, practical training for specific ministry. (Review verses on equipping.)

Some train through leadership retreats, others through weekly or monthly training or mentoring. The most effective training is often for a specific ministry opportunity, like a mission trip. Jim Brown in Northern Ireland provides 6-month discipleship groups to prepare students for 16 mission trips, representing 5 different levels of commitment. (5) (Relax! He started with one trip his first summer.) Even non-Christians can go on purely service trips.

When students train for specific ministries, such as to lead a cell group or to serve in a drama ministry, they are all ears for training. Perry Friesen (Russia) has seen short- term missions as "the best way we developed student leaders in an accelerated way." He would teach key lessons on personal development and ministry how-to\'s for three months. On the trip, he sat and watched while his 15 kids led the Vacation Bible School. Of these kids, many went on to Youth With a Mission, one is a full time staffer, one ministers in China, another is preparing for overseas missions.

Eric Ball (USA) writes:

"Training for each ministry function must be provided either by you personally or someone skilled in that area who has your (the leader\'s) heart and vision for the ministry. Without training you are setting students up for failure and frustration. A book by Leroy Eims of the Navigators says it best - "Disciples Are Made, Not Born." We must start where our students are, not where we wish they were, and pour our lives into them to train them to do the work of the ministry. I took all my leaders through specific material, some I designed, some I purchased. They had to make specific commitments to be a part of leadership. We met weekly for over a year. They were the ones I poured my life into. I designed several short retreats a year to address specific needs/training issues. I also provided incentives/benefits - I paid for their camp costs, t-shirts, etc."

  • Consider placing a qualified adult (or older, mature student) over training and plugging youth into ministry. As youth ministers, we have so many responsibilities: improve the praise team, teach well, rally prayers, train adults, evangelize the saved, visit the sick, etc. I\'m not saying dogmatically that in your context you can or should delegate all this responsibility. But think of the potential of having someone around who sees leadership development as his or her "baby," comes to every meeting developing relationships with students and looking for leadership potential, continually looks for places in the church and community for youth to serve, and falls to sleep at night dreaming new ideas for student leadership. NorthStar Church in Acworth, Georgia, has a full time staff member in charge of finding needs in the community and hooking up people to meet those needs. It\'s no wonder that the church has grown to 2000 attenders in 5 years. NorthPoint Community Church has a person on staff to match students up with their Sunday morning ministries.

This is not just for mega-churches. One youth ministry gets their youth involved with acts of kindness in the community. To keep this going, two lay people help plan these events and rally youth behind them. Even if you are a lay youth leader over 10 students, consider appointing one student or adult over training and motivating students for ministry. But choose leadership carefully. It\'s better to have nobody in charge than to have the wrong person in charge.

  • Consider dividing students into ministry teams, sometimes totally student led and sometimes facilitated by an adult. Boris Krupa (a high school student in Bratislava, Slovakia) did a fantastic job with a weekly evangelistic event. Several teams of youth pulled off the entire event - the worship team, a skit team, two MC\'s, and Boris as the teacher.

Perry Friesen (Russia) observes, "no curriculum in itself will ever develop student leaders like a little responsibility (with accountability)." He sees Russian youth taking leadership in worship because "it is an area that adults have easily entrusted to them. It is up front, and has a lot of immediate satisfaction and prestige." He also likes the idea of doing outreaches that target the friends of his core youth leaders. This helps them take the responsibility of reaching their friends, not simply depending on the youth pastor.

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