Working with students is something that I love to do. Over the past three years, I have seen God grow and expand my heart for the next generation in incredible ways. It seems that the more I learn and figure out about student ministry, the more I discover I do not know. Student ministry can be full of life and full of challenge. Impacting the next generation can be exhilarating at times and at others, a lonely endeavor. I go through seasons of utter excitement followed by uncertainty and insecurity (and that might be all in one week). There is no formula and there is no silver bullet; however, in God’s Word, we have been given a perfect blueprint for reaching the next generation.
In this edition of “Blueprint”, I want to share some of what God has been showing me about working with student leaders. Recently, I was spending some time reading in Galatians. Although I had read these particular chapters many times before, this time afforded me new insight and encouragement. As I read through the first couple chapters, I felt as though God was reminding me of some wonderful principles for leading in ministry. I believe that these five principles could be very helpful in working with student leaders. So, take what you like. Use what you take. And keep pouring into the next generation.
Take Student Leaders with You
One of the best ways to learn anything is through experience. If you are going to a meeting, conference or anywhere ministry is going to happen, look for opportunities to take student leaders with you. Growing up in the church afforded me many opportunities to tag along and experience ministry. There are times as a leader that I get caught up doing all the ministry on my own and I have to be reminded that I can bring young leaders along with me and give them the chance to do ministry. I love that in Scripture we see this modeled. Jesus took his “student leaders” with him. Paul took his up and coming leaders with him. I know that this is nothing new, but I needed the reminder and so I am sharing it with you. Youth ministry is not simply meant to be a buffet line that students step up to and eat from, it is also meant to give them the chef hat or the serving apron and let them help prepare the meal for others. Think about one or two students that you want to invest in and take them with you the next time you plan on doing ministry. Let them share in the joy of seeing God move and then let them practice inviting others to join them as they go!
Support Student Leaders in Ministry
As you create space for students to lead, it will not always go the way you want it to or expect it to. Releasing students in ministry can be risky business, but I believe it is worth the risk. As you observe students stepping up and leading, support their leadership. Get behind the students you see following Jesus and champion their heart, their ideas and their passion for Jesus.
Recognize God’s Gifting
God has made, shaped and gifted each of us in unique ways. One of my greatest joys in working with students is getting to affirm what I see God doing in them and through them. Because adolescence can be a pivotal time in identity formation, affirming God’s identity in our students and student leaders can be a priceless gift we give as youth pastors or youth leaders. Students want to be loved, accepted and valued. Take time to notice the unique ways God has gifted your students and then tell them what you see. Encourage all your volunteer leaders to affirm, affirm, affirm the work that God is doing in your student leaders. As you model this, encourage your students to do it too.
Always have Room for One More
There are times that leadership can feel like an exclusive club. And don’t get me wrong, with leadership comes demands and responsibility. However, when working with student leaders, always have room for one more to join the circle. There are so many opportunities for serving, and learning how to serve, that we should be on the look out for those who just want to belong. As you are investing in your students, stay on the lookout and always have room for one more student to join in the fun of kingdom ministry. A practical way for this to work is to have all types of leadership positions. Develop a spectrum of leadership roles so that you can allow students to grow in their leadership. Students are looking for places to have a purpose and giving them responsibility in the group will help foster their growth and their self-worth.
Encourage, Encourage, Encourage
Saving the best for last, never grow tired of encouraging your youth. Encourage students when they succeed. Encourage students to give it another shot when they fail. Encourage! Encourage! Encourage! Encourage your students in their pursuit of Jesus. Encourage your students to include others. Encourage your student leaders to be a reflection of Jesus to their peers. I love encouraging the teens in our youth group because they love hearing it. You can see a visible change in their demeanor as I spur them on in who Jesus is calling them to be. Never underestimate the impact of a simple encouraging word. Encouraging your student leaders is the culmination of these five principles because you are:
- Encouraging your student leaders to be with you in ministry
- Encouraging your student leaders’ ability to go for it in ministry
- Encouraging your student leaders in who God is calling them to be
- Encouraging new student leaders to step up
- Encouraging student leaders in all that they do.