3 Simple Steps to Kickstart Student Leadership | UMC YoungPeople
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October 2018

3 Simple Steps to Kickstart Student Leadership

By Chris Lynch

Leading an effective youth ministry requires resources that often seem to be in all too short supply. If you are like most youth workers, there is little that you can do to create additional resources to eliminate the shortage that tends to cause stress for you as the leader or limits the effectiveness of the ministry that can occur. In most cases, if there are opportunities to create additional resources, such as holding a fundraiser to collect more money for your budget, it requires significant additional resources (time, effort, etc) to be a success with little or no long-term impact upon ministry effectiveness.

However, there is one resource that, when incorporated effectively into the culture of your ministry, can increase the availability of a much needed resource as well as have a lasting impact on the long-term effectiveness of the youth ministry. What is this resource? I’m glad you asked, it’s developing student leaders.

How do you as a youth leader begin to develop a culture of student leadership development?

These are three steps that I believe, can serve as a kickstarter to developing a student leadership culture within your youth ministry: make a plan, identify leaders, and create leadership opportunities.

It sounds simple enough, but like so many things in life it is easier said than done. Let’s break down each of those steps a little further to clarify what needs to occur.

1. Create a Plan

First, it is important that you as the leader create a plan for developing student leaders in the youth ministry context. In order to create a great plan, begin with your “why”! Answering the why question helps develop a clear purpose for developing student leaders, create a direction for developing student leaders, and offers a basis to evaluate the effectiveness of your student leadership development structure. Three specific questions to consider as you make a plan for developing student leaders are:

  • Why do you want to develop student leaders? What’s the purpose?
  • What outcomes are you seeking?
  • How can you best structure student leadership development to accomplish your desired purposes and outcomes?

Answering these questions for yourself, or better yet with a group of adult volunteers and/or youth, can help lay a firm foundation for creating an impactful student leadership culture.

2. Identify Leaders

Once you have settled on a plan for developing student leaders, it is time to identify potential student leaders in your midst. This step is critical in creating a student leadership culture. Take your time with this step as it can be tempting to quickly select the typical youth that are the default options when you think about student leaders in the ministry. Please don’t read that as a statement that you should NOT tap into those students as leaders, because chances are that they are your “default” leaders because they are effective leaders. That being said, it is easy to overlook potential leaders in our midst when we too quickly identify potential student leaders.

One way to insure that you slow down and think beyond the “usual suspects” of student leaders is to make a list of the characteristics you hope to instill in your student leaders. When you think about those characteristics it might be helpful to divide them into two categories: skills and heart.

Some students will have characteristics that are considered to be skills of a leader (time management, good listener, good communicator). Skills are characteristics that can be taught and, with practice, mastered. The heart of a leader deals with one’s character. In a ministry setting, I would say that it is much more important that a potential leader exhibits the heart of a leader (integrity, compassion) more than the skills of a leader. Be sure to include a balance of heart and skills characteristics as you make your list. Once you have that list share it with your volunteer team and together, begin to identify youth that exhibit those characteristics. Obviously no student will exhibit all of the identified characteristics, so be sure to keep that in mind as you set your standards.

3. Create Leadership Opportunities

The final step to kick start your student leadership development after creating a plan and identifying your student leaders is to give them opportunities to lead. This sounds like the most obvious of the steps, but youth leaders regularly struggle with it, not because of the young leaders they are developing, but because their own struggles. Some struggle to create opportunities due to fear of it not being done up to their standard. Others avoid it in order to insulate young leaders from failure.

Whatever the reason, it is imperative that youth leaders avoid those urges to avoid giving away leadership opportunities. I can promise that you as the youth leader could do a better job MOST of the time at whatever task you delegate to your student leaders, especially initially, but over time your students’ proficiency may surprise you. In some ways I liken it to driving a car. You can be taught how to drive. You can pass written the driver’s test. You can know every traffic sign and law by heart. But you only become a better driver by driving. The more you drive, the better driver you become. The same is true of leadership. The more opportunities you are given to lead, the better leader you become. Will there be mistakes? You bet. Will there be times when things don’t go smoothly? Absolutely. Ultimately, there will be growth and development among your student leaders, which is the goal.

Nelson Mandela once said, “I have never lost. I win, or I learn.” What if we applied that quote to our approach to developing student leaders? As a leader it helps alleviate some of the fear that we might face when it comes to kick starting a student leadership development culture. Suddenly, we don’t see our failures (or losses) as a negative, but rather an opportunity to learn. That approach can also be helpful in how free we feel to give students opportunities to lead. What if we saw their mistakes, not as failures, but rather learnings. If we do, then we can encourage our students by reminding them, “You will never mess up. You will succeed or you will learn.” My prayer for you as a youth leader, is that your efforts to develop student leaders in the youth ministry you lead is fruitful and that young, effective leaders rise up in your midst.

Join Chris for Ask A Veteran! That is our virtual coaching session where you can ask a youth ministry pro questions and get real, personal help. He will be leading one on the topic of student leadership on October 18th at 11AM Central Time. Go ahead and set your calendars. You can join from your phone or through your web browser. Here’s all the details. We’ll see you there:

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/221908709

Or iPhone one-tap :
US: +16699006833,,221908709# or +16468769923,,221908709#
Or Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 876 9923
Meeting ID: 221 908 709
International numbers available: https://zoom.us/u/B9GcIYVv