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

Youth Ministry Topics Training Student Leaders

Training Student Leadership: Professional Report (Part 5)

Steve Miller

Chapter Seven
Transition Students into Leadership

So you've been training students in ministry skills and they are plugging in. How can we begin to see leaders rise to the top and give them greater responsibility?

  • Give leadership opportunities incrementally. "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…" (Luke 16:10a)

"Give them opportunities to lead in a small way at first, then great responsibilities as they mature." (Michael Holt, USA). A young man in a past church told me God had called him to be a youth evangelist and he wanted to speak to the youth group. I responded, "Great, but first why don't you help us as we set up chairs for meetings and serve. He never followed through. Months later he was picked up by the police, charged with public, immoral conduct. Remember that high visibility ministry appeals to large egos. If they can't arrange chairs and sweep the youth room, they don't have the character to do the up-front stuff.

A time-tested strategy for moving students into ministry is:

I minister

I minister and you watch

You minister and I watch

You minister

  • Continually train leaders in all aspects of your ministry. "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…." (Ephesians 4:11,12)

Everyone told me to visit a supposedly incredible ministry. But when I arrived, things were dead. Their band (the main attraction) had gotten so good that they permanently hit the road. So the ministry suffered. Why were there no musicians in training?

Another ministry constantly trains new worship leaders by allowing new singers (with their voices coming only through the monitors) on stage with the experienced ones. Often you'll see two bass players on stage, one experienced and one in training.

Glen and Aymi Melo (Philippines) conduct leadership training classes on a monthly basis, mobilizing students to win three people for Christ and form a new cell group. Additionally, they do "person-to-person mentoring, on-the-job learning and periodic classroom instruction."

Christian Voides (Romania) takes leaders through a one-year leadership program. They also differentiate three levels of involvement: Level One = Inviting friends and participating in an evangelistic event. Level Two = Level One plus a bible study. Level Three = Discipleship which involves level two plus being involved in organizing the evangelistic event through skits, games, bringing as a group 10 new people, welcoming everybody, etc.

  • Start a Leadership Team

Many youth ministers have a team of students that meet regularly to help decide direction for the ministry, plan events, give input to the youth minister, etc. We referred to our team as a council of servants in order to prevent the notion that these had authority over other students. This student team, as well as the adult leaders, has been invaluable to me.

  • Demand Spiritual Qualifications for Teaching or Formal Leadership. "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (James 3:1, cr. I Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, Acts 6:1-4)

Each youth minister needs to think deeply about qualifications for various ministries. Is it okay for a nonbeliever to be a singing worship leader? What about a bass player or sound technician? Can anyone do an act of kindness with the church such as going to rake a yard? What about going on a mission trip or teaching a bible study? Study these issues yourselves, but here is where I am:

a) A pastor/teacher should have the qualifications of an elder. (I Timothy 3, Titus 1)

b) Although not all teachers are pastors, all teachers carry a heavy weight of responsibility and should be held to high standards as well, at least as high as the office of deacons (Acts 6:1-4, I Timothy 3, Titus 1).

c) A nonbeliever or carnal (fleshly) believer would be singing a lie if he voiced praises to God in song while leading worship. If worship comes from the heart, then these people would not be truly worshiping. How could they lead others in worship?

d) I'm more comfortable with instrumentalists all being Christians since they seem to be representing the youth group by "leading" from the stage, though I'm not dogmatic on limiting them to Christians

e) Student leaders should at least have the qualifications of deacons, made applicable to the youth world.

Deacon was apparently an office of special servants in New Testament times. They were not necessarily leaders or teachers. And yet they were to be held to high qualifications. See I Timothy 3:10 - "they must first be tested…." (I Timothy 3:10).

In one church we elected a youth council that served as my student leadership team. I didn't trust myself to know the character and motivations of 150 youth, so I would spend one Sunday morning laying out the qualifications of deacons (as applied to the world of youth) in I Timothy and Acts. Then I'd have students and adult leaders vote secretly by circling names on a list (the list included all the youth who were church members) that they believed were qualified. I stressed that this was no popularity contest. I made them hold up their hands to say they would neither ask anyone who they voted for nor tell anyone who they voted for. They could vote to up to two in their own class and a couple outside of their class. We'd pray.

After I tallied the votes, I'd let my adult team know privately which students were voted for in order to ask if they knew any reason why any of these students should not serve. Then I'd tell the youth group the list and ask them to talk with me privately if they knew someone who was disqualified to be on the list.

This gave three tests: how they were viewed by other students, how they were viewed by the adults, and how I viewed them. This worked very well in my context, especially considering the size of our group.

Glen and Aymi Melo (Philippines) summarize their qualifications as "Christ-likeness and evangelistic fruit." Christian Voides (Romania) identifies leaders "through the one who is discipling the student." In this way, "there is a long-term relationship in place, trust and a demonstrated excellence in service." The dangers of putting students into leadership before they are mature enough include pride and feelings of failure when things don't go well.

Jim Brown (Northern Ireland) lets non-Christians serve on a mission trip that is purely building and helps, but not on trips that include spiritual ministry such as teaching or evangelism.

  • Learn from others. "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." (Proverbs 15:22, cr. 15:14; 20:18)

This report doesn't pretend to be the last word on student leadership. Learn what to do from strong ministries. Learn what not to do from weak ministries. Solicit input from your students and adult leaders. Study books on leadership, talk with successful business leaders and successful leaders of their families.

As I've observed two extremely successful pastors, I've been impressed with them as learners. Although they've had many years of experience and education, they continue to read voraciously and continually learn from other successful ministries.

Incredibly successful investor Warren Buffet, once stated that by studying a successful company, a person could learn more than from a degree at a business school. Wildly successful author Stephen King claims to be a slow reader, yet he devours seventy or eighty books a year. He improves his craft through reading, claiming that "quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones." (14) It's usually easier to spot flaws in other ministries than our own. So however you do it, learn, learn, learn.

  • Use them in significant ministry. "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching." (I Timothy 4:12,13)

The more I learn about the potential of student leaders, the more I realize that we're using marines to keep order in the nursery! Students have more energy, more natural contacts with the lost, more discretionary time than any other group in the church. Some are passionately in love with Jesus. Why do we limit their involvement to a one-week mission trip, greeting visitors and leading worship? Let's release them to impact their world!

Cultural and Other Factors That Affect Leadership Training

We can't stress enough that each ministry setting is unique in ways that affect how leadership will look in your setting. I simply can't take perfectly constructed model that worked beautifully in another context and assume it will work just as well in my setting. While God expects us to get wise counsel from others, we must be discerning and Spirit-led as we seek to develop effective ministers and leaders in our setting. Here are some factors to consider as you put together a strategy for building leadership.

1) Volunteer leaders don't have the time of paid staff. The vast majority of people leading youth groups are volunteers. Yet, those who write on leadership development are typically paid staff. This can greatly affect how leadership training looks. A volunteer who is a full-time student, works a paying job, and leads a youth ministry on weekends can't be expected to lead a bible study, have a separate meeting to train students, another meeting to work with adult leaders, etc. Leadership training may be as simple as taking one teachable student along as you prepare for and teach a youth event, and giving him/her responsibilities in this meeting.

2) Many pastors or leaders, especially in certain cultures, want control over everything that happens, severely limiting the ability of a youth minister to minister creatively or train students to lead ministries that are beyond the pastor’s control.

3) Differences in learning methods call for different approaches. In Mexico, where most school teaching is done by lecture and rote memory, not allowing discussion, it may take much longer for students to learn that their questions and ideas and leadership are significant. (Tim and Annette Gulick, Mexico)

4) Students differ widely as to available time. Christian Voides (Romania) faces the hindrance of "a very demanding educational system. Students have so much homework that they have almost no free time." This gives students in places like Romania and Japan much less time to train and minister than, for example, a kid growing up in the slums of Calcutta. In America, students may have more negotiable time, but have to say "no" to some recreational alternatives (sports, etc.) that vie for their time.

5) Some local church and cultural settings are much more conducive to motivate students toward leadership than others. In the midst of a rather dead church, it may be very difficult to develop a "commitment culture." A culture where parents and society discourage Christian involvement (e.g., a Muslim culture), expectations may be very different from another culture. And who can predict the moving of the Spirit? So much of ministry seems to involve serving faithfully and waiting patiently for the Spirit to do His work.

6) In societies where youth don't have much to do, it can become difficult to keep the wrong students from attending training meetings just to have something to do. A worker in Italy does leadership retreat out of town. If he had them in town, everyone would come!

These are just samples of hundreds of variables that make leadership training different in every context. Don't blindly copy. Adapt!

Action Points

This global wisdom is useless unless it sharpens your ministry. I challenge you to write down a few action points, things you feel God wants you to do to train your students for ministry. Put these in the order of priority (#1 = "If I do nothing else as a result of this report, I'll do this…). You may want to use the questions that follow to assess your ministry.

#1 -

#2 –

#3 –

# 4 –

# 5 -

Click HERE for Part 6...

Click HERE to learn more about the quarterly "Professional Youth Ministry Report."