Student Leadership: It’s a popular buzzword in student ministry circles. Articles, books, videos, conferences and hours upon hours of seminary training have been devoted to teaching youth workers how to teach students…leadership.
Now, if you’re like me, you’ve sampled a few of those offerings, and maybe got lost in the process. Ministry suppliers like Simply Youth Ministry, LeaderTreks, and Student Leadership University have enough resources to overwhelm even the most seasoned student of leadership. The stuff is great and useful…but, they often leave me (and my student leaders) wanting a bit more. It’s kind of like drinking one of those 8oz cans of Coke: tasty, but not satisfying.
So, I’m proposing an approach that works for our student ministry, and I think it can help yours as well. (yes, another blog entry on student leadership). This stuff isn’t original with us. We stole our framework from a great book: the Bible.
When you look at the strategy of Jesus, you find three main things he did with the disciples: He equipped. He guided. He sent. In our ministry we “theme” this process using the idea of a hunting or fishing outfitter, so our ministry is called OSM Outfitters. Here’s how it breaks down.
Equip: Throughout Jesus’s ministry, you see him training and teaching the disciples leadership principles. Think of him calming the waves and waiting for Lazarus to die before he goes to Bethany. These two episodes, among others, taught the disciples about integrating leadership and faith. In Outfitters, we do this part through guided studies and having them work alongside our adult volunteers in the student ministry and other ministries.
Guide: Jesus also gave his disciples “guided practice,” or opportunities to be a part of active ministry. Examples of this are their participation in the feeding the 5000 or their inability to cast out demons (assuming Jesus had given them the task of doing so). These were times when Jesus said, “Do X,” and then stepped back to see how they did, offering assistance where needed.
Send: Finally, Jesus gave the disciples chances to go it alone. The most obvious is when he sent out the seventy disciples to minister in the outlying towns. He gave them the chance to serve, and when they came back blown away by how God worked through them, Jesus was elated. For us, this is the fun part. We’ve had students tackle some big ministry dreams! Some failed miserably, and others succeeded, and BOTH results were learning experiences for all of our student leaders.
So, there it is. It’s nothing new or trendy, nothing super spiritual or mind-blowing. It’s just WWJD style ministry, but it has elevated those students in our student ministry who have chosen to step up to the plate and become leaders to a new level in their walk with Christ and their effectiveness for the Gospel. I think three things sum up why it’s been so successful.
1. Access: OSM Outfitters is open to anyone who is willing to make the commitments that we require of our leaders. We don’t pick them. They choose to step up. (Ownership)
2. Action: Get out of the youth room! Bible studies are great, but learning in the midst of the battle is so much more effective and life-changing. There’s a time for words. But we have to make more time for practice. We encourage our students to dream big, and we resource them to chase those God-given dreams.
3. Intentionality: Leadership development must be intentional. Just because ministry is taking place, DOES NOT mean leadership is being developed. We’ve got to figure out ways to draw the desire of leadership out in our students, and then feed that hunger. We give our students opportunities to serve alongside other leaders, observe leadership in action, and even see how poor leadership affects those who follow.
In a nutshell, that’s how we do student leadership in our student ministry, and I believe it is the best thing we do. I could go into a lot more detail, but you’re probably ready to move on to an actual Knowles blog entry. So, let me leave you with one challenge. Jesus ministry was wrapped up in two things: preaching the kingdom (Gospel) and building his church (leadership). I assume you’re doing one of those in your ministry already. Don’t you think it’s time to get serious about the other one too?
Dustin Slaton has been involved in student ministry for over ten years, and is currently Minister of Students & Recreation at First Baptist Church in Terrell, TX. He’s passionate about developing student leaders who will embrace the mission of the church and reach the lost generations. Please contact him if you’d like more info on starting your own student leadership initiative at @dustinslaton or http://www.overflowterrell.com.