(I was inspired to write this out after reading this post by Doug Franklin).
I am passionate about promoting student leadership. I was engaged in ministry from a young age and it had a profound effect on my faith, my personal growth, and my commitment to the Church. I believe that getting teenagers involved in doing and running ministry is one of the best things we can do for their faith journeys – for several reasons.
1) Leading makes teens active participants rather than passive observers.
A teenager can easily come to youth group, to youth service, to church, even to small group or bible study, and basically just watch. They can give an answer without going deep, they can watch what others say – and look involved. There is a big difference, however, when that teenager starts leading a small group of younger teens, or planning an event for the group, or mentoring someone, or serving on a big-church ministry team.
2) Putting a teen in a leadership role demonstrates confidence in them.
Giving teens a role shows them that we believe in them. Too often I believe that a kid is awesome without doing something practical to show them that I believe that. When I take my hands off and say “this is yours” – then walk with them through the mistakes, rather than telling them what to do – I demonstrate practically a trust in their gifts and heart.
3) Learning to lead while still young gives teens a safe place to make mistakes.
We all make mistakes. As leaders, we make bigger mistakes, at times. So many teens (especially TCKs) struggle with a fear of failure. Some kids get tied up in knots, unable to move, for fear of making the wrong choice. Giving teens leadership opportunities guarantees that they will make some mistakes, or feel they’re in over their heads. When this happens in a youth minsitry context, when youth workers are there to walk them through the situation, to help interpret it for them, they are able to learn from mistakes without being paralysed by them.
4) Serving in the Church teaches teens how to be part of the Body.
I have seen so many teens who had a solid faith in high school drift away from church in college. These were not cases of kids who never connected with faith, or kids who found the world and got rebellious, or kids who lost their self-control when they were out on their own. It’s much simpler than that. These are kids who didn’t get connected to a solid fellowship when they left home. There are many reasons that happens, but something we can do to help prevent it is to get kids involved. If a teen is serving on the worship team/sound team/projection team/greeting team/teaching Sunday school in their home church, when they leave home they know they have something to offer a church they join on their own. Keeping teens in youth-only situations where they are ministered to without being engaged in doing ministry does them a disservice when it comes time to join a church on their own – in this scenario they never learn how to be part of the Body.
It is important for teens to interact with adults on a “peer” level – as fellow servants in the ministry of the Church. I lovelovelove when I see my teens engaged in ministry teams where they are not “the youth kid” but simply part of the team, where adults in the church who aren’t their youth leaders or parents’ friends know them by name and interact with them as an equal – treating them as an adult. When these teens leave home, they will feel comfortable interacting as an independent adult in their new fellowship.