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Student leadership: not always time efficient, but always valuable

I wrote a post earlier about why we must promote student leadership. There’s a second side to this – why should we put the time and effort into training a teen to do something we could do more easily ourselves?

Let’s be honest – training up a teen leader, walking alongside them, is time (and energy) consuming. Teen leaders is that they are NEW to this whole serving/leading thing. They need more support as they work it out. They need extra encouragement, and trust, even when they make mistakes – which they will. They need someone to walk alongside them, explaining things, interpreting situations. Done well, training student leaders is a high maintenance role; if we tell them “here’s a job, it’s all yours!” and then go hands-off, we aren’t helping them at all.

Have you heard of this pattern for training leaders? Step 1: I do, you watch; Step 2: we do it together; Step 3: you do, I watch; Step 4: you do, I’m outta here. Okay, so that’s the Tanya Paraphrase, but you get the idea. The theory behind this is that we invest in training someone (which uses more time and energy) because once trained we can delegate to them and we get that time and energy back – to spend on something else. It’s about efficiency as a leader, learning to train others to do your work so you can work on something new.

The problem with this method in youth ministry (and especially in TCK ministry) is that we rarely get enough time to go through all the steps. The teens we invest in often leave before they become confident/mature enough to truly delegate to. We spend a few years training them to that point, investing more time and energy than we’d need to if we just did it ourselves, but we never get to the handover point. So why bother? Why not just do it ourselves?

Well, what is the point of our ministry to youth? Is it to run the best programs? Have the best worship? Run the best events? Or is it to disciple students?

I would rather have a lower standard of excellence in our worship times, but have them lead by students – students who are demonstrating worship to their peers, students who are being challenged to go deeper in their faith, students who are given the opportunity to discover and develop their gifts, students who are honing skills they can take wherever they go. I know my kids aren’t the most experienced leaders we have access to, but man, I would rather worship under their leadership any day. They inspire me!

I would rather spend time and effort training teens to do the various tasks required to run a big event, and mentor them through doing themselves, than run the whole show myself. When I teach teens and give them areas of responsibility, there will always be problems I have to solve (that wouldn’t have happened if I did it all myself) but that doesn’t mean it’s not better. Watching a team of 30 youth run a large retreat – seeing them get their friends involved, actively engaged in the administration, excited about finding new ways to process information, gaining a sense of ownership of the event – was far more rewarding than spending that time and effort doing it myself. My role changed from being a do-er to being a guide and problem solver.

In the long run, training these youth is not just developing them personally, but also contributing to the Church as a whole. The fellowship I attend may not receive the benefits of the training and opportunities given to these teens, but another fellowship somewhere else in the world will.

I admit, the temptation is still strong to do things myself. I truly believe, however, that letting go of something I can do in order to give that opportunity to a student is far, far more valuable. If we can walk alongside student leaders for a time, they will go out confident in their gifts and abilities, ready to serve and contribute to the Body.

 
 

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Why we MUST promote student leadership

(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.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2011 in Leadership Development, Leading Youth

 

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