Tag Archives: training youth

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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College and Scholarship Essay Writing for TCKs

This is our first post by Kara Banker. Kara works with TCKs in Beijing and blogs on life in China at The Middle Kingdom.
A while back, one of the students in our youth group asked for my help on a college admissions essay she was writing.  She just couldn’t think what to write.  This was the prompt: “Describe the world you came from–for example, your family, community or school–and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.”

Even before reading the whole question, I thought, “Jackpot!  This question was made for this girl!”  She’s a TCK, has grown up in America then China in a Korean family, and attends an international school where she has been highly involved in Model United Nations, school council, and various others leadership positions.  The kicker?  She aspires to do something with international relations.

Sometimes, our amazing TCKs forget that their unique experiences are a powerful tool in situations like this.   I asked her if her experiences as a TCK have affected her desire to go into international relations.  “Yes… Oh, so I should connect the two?”  I laughed.  Yes, by all means, use the fact that you have loads more international experience and perspective than 90% of the other applicants!  If a question gives even a small opening to mention your knowledge of the world from living in a foreign place, take advantage of that; it will set you apart.

Bringing up your TCK experience when first making friends can be alienating.  Doing it while writing essays can be an edge that gets you into your college or that much-needed scholarship.  In general, you have to put aside your humility for these essays, but especially for TCKs, it’s a chance to brag on all the things you’ve learned not to mention to other people, all the cool things you’ve done and seen and learned from just living the crazy life you have.

They have already been given the material to make their essay far more interesting and surprising than the average “I grew up in suburban America with my parents, siblings, and a dog.”  If you find yourself guiding a TCK in writing essays like this, here are some things to remember:

  1. This is the perfect place to be as unique as possible, so remind them how crazy-cool they are.  Other than growing up in a foreign country, they’ve probably developed friendships across cultures, learned some distinctive skills (navigating the NRT, INC, or HKG airport in five minutes flat), and developed a large worldview that encompasses a number of subtleties.
  2. These essays are not long-term commitments.  Almost everyone is clueless about their future career when they’re seventeen, so when the essay prompt asks about your future plans, it just means that you should answer something that you’ve thought through.  College is about discovering more of yourself and learning how wrong your initial direction was, so write something solid and forget about it because everyone else will, too.
  3. They do not actually expect you to solve world hunger or war.  The same student I mentioned earlier had another essay where they asked about free speech (another jackpot for a girl growing up where she did).  She had obviously spent much more time thinking about this than the average highschooler in the States and got hung up trying to fit her overarching theory and solution in the 250-word limit.  I pointed out that this college essay wasn’t actually asking for a solution, just an opinion that is well-written and thoughtful.
  4. The essays, the applications, the scholarships, the schools—everything is ultimately secondary to Christ. Seniors freaking out about getting into their first choice university won’t easily listen to this point, but as you help them through this process, cover it in prayer and gentle reminders that God is guiding the process in a more powerful way than their written words ever could.

Helping a student write these also gives you new insight into their lives and provides a place to tell them all the strengths you see in them.  Take full advantage of that!

Note: I write as an American primarily about the American university process.  I think these principles are still highly applicable to writing essays for other things, but I just wanted to make sure to point out that my experience is strictly American in this instance.

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Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Leading Youth, TCKs


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Thoughts on Student Leadership

Recently, one of my seminary assignments had me asking two essential questions.Why is it important to raise up student leaders? and How can our ministries better raise up leaders? Here’s some of what I’ve come up with so far for the first one.

  • Leadership opportunities help provide a sense of youth ministry ownership
  • Opportunities provide connection to build up church body, and larger sense of belonging
  • Leadership provides opportunities for students to make personal discoveries
  • Personal discoveries are more likely to lead to personal change as opposed to simply “being told” something
  • Leadership provides positive outlets for creativity and develops community
  • Prepares students for their roles as adults
  • Student leaders leads to reaching a greater number of students – then will have long term impact (on future communities),
  • Potentially more effective than adult leaders to reach other students
  • Value for other seeing peer role models, role of peer mentoring
  • Student leaders provide valuable feedback about students’ perspective

I’ve answered the first here. But here are some other questions I’ve been thinking about

  • How do we build into our ministries opportunities both formal and informal for leadership development?
  • How do we handle the transience of youth communities and assist our students to make smooth transitions?
  • How do we equip not just the “natural” student leader but make sure there’s space for others with leadership potential as well?

As usual, more questions than answers. What are your thoughts? What has worked foryou? What’s been a challenge?

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Posted by on January 21, 2011 in Leading Youth


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