Why You Should Equip Students to Lead

Let’s talk about leadership for a moment, shall we? It’s one of those “buzzwords” that can mean many different things. Leadership can be about inspiring other people. It can be about having ruling authority over someone else. It can mean being a point person on a project or event. Most importantly, good leadership is about equipping others. This type of leadership is directly connected to discipleship.

Talking about leading means talking about the structure of your ministry. What are your goals for the students and families you shepherd? How are you establishing structures to help achieve these goals more easily? While parents are the primary disciple-makers of their children, as youth leaders, God has called us to partner with them in this work. One of the ways we can help families is by giving students opportunities to lead the way in practicing their faith within the ministry.

It all revolves around leading students and the ministry somewhere. Here’s where we sometimes get it wrong. Some of us have never considered why we do the things we do. Instead, we just focus on the fact that we’re doing something. “Busy is better,” we’re tempted to think, as we measure success in the amount of things we do. But busy isn’t always better. Sometimes, busy is bad. Everything needs to revolve around a central purpose or goal.

Let’s think about it in terms of a road trip. What if you decided to drive from New York to Los Angeles without making a plan or using a map? Sure you’d make it some of the way, but completing the journey would be difficult. You could drive for some time only to find out you were in the middle of Montana, miles off course.

The difference between a road trip and discipleship is that in a road trip, we want to go from Point A to Point B. With discipleship, we want to teach others how to go from A to B while we are making the journey with them. We shouldn’t want to lead students as spectators. We should be creative in finding ways for students to follow as participants, practicing the things they’re learning along the way.

It’s the difference between hearing and doing. We want students to be hearers AND doers of the word. This means students need to be hearing the word AND doing what God says. It sounds simple, but we all know it’s easier said than done. So how can we equip students to lead?

First, give them a safe space to fail. Anything that’s worth doing is worth failing. We can learn so much from the wrong way of doing things. What matters is that someone is there to gracefully teach them how to do it the right way when we fail. Take leading worship as an example. Students need to know that perfection isn’t the end goal of leading other youth to sing. While excellence is important, it isn’t the top priority. Instead, the purpose is to lead others to sing words that are true about God to God.

Next, help them serve in other ministries within the church. This post follows an understanding of last week’s post about students serving in the context of the corporate gathering. Most student ministries won’t be able to create opportunities to lead for every area in which students are gifted. I would say student ministries weren’t meant to- which is another reason why students need connected to the church as a whole.

Finally, teach them to value Jesus above everything else. While this is listed after the other two reasons, this is the most important. Our main concern is about developing leaders who equip others with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We know the gospel leads us to serve in so many different ways, but the reason never changes. We do everything to glorify God, whether it’s leading music on stage, leading a game, running sound, helping with visuals, greeting others, serving in a Sunday School class, taking care of babies in the nursery, or leading a Bible Study. This must always be the most important thing.

Student ministers, what are some challenges you’ve faced in equipping students to lead? How have you seen God work in your students as they’ve had opportunities? I’d love to hear your stories!

Why Teens Need Meaningful Connections With Adults

If I were to ask you what role the student ministry plays within the life of your local church, how would you answer? Would they be the next generation of the church, separated off during corporate worship times? Would they be incorporated into the church without the opportunity to gather together exclusively with others in their age group? The answer to this question reveals one’s philosophy on intergenerational discipleship.

Here’s what I mean: in the first example above, we see the students separated without meaningful connections to the church. If we isolate students from the rest of the gathered church, we are taking away opportunities to have their lives shaped by other adults in the body. As a student minister, it’s my job to think of ways to create meaningful connections within the collective church body.

Friday, we saw how the coronavirus pandemic reveals our need for community. This need is universal throughout our entire lives. For teenagers, even though this need is most immediately met through community with those around the same age, they need others to speak into their lives as well. Parents, extended family, and pastors all have a role to play, but we must not overlook the role of other adults in the church.

The distance placed between many student ministries and church bodies usually begins with good intentions. Maybe we are trying to create a more welcoming environment for teens. Maybe the worship schedule at the church is crowded, so the only youth gathering can happen while the adults are in the worship service. Maybe the only available gathering area is in a separate building, making it more difficult to feel like a part of the church. Whatever the reason may be, now is the time to reevaluate our programming to help better connect our teens to other adults in the church. Here are three reasons why:

1. Teenagers Benefit from the Life Experiences of Adults

Both teens and older adults feel hesitant to interact with one another. I’ve heard the reasoning many times, always from a good heart- someone feels hesitant to volunteer in the ministry because they’re concerned they can’t relate to students. As we grow older and mature, God gives us more stories to share with others. We receive stories of His faithfulness provision, goodness, and grace. These stories are powerful to teenagers, often drawing them in and serving as the foundation for many conversations.

Many stories revolve around the difficult decisions teenagers have to face. While today’s culture is significantly different than it was even ten years ago, many of the big decisions remain the same. By connecting teens with older adults, students have an opportunity to hear how these decisions made (or didn’t make) that big of a difference. There’s an opportunity to learn from mistakes or wrong decisions. There’s also an opportunity to encourage students towards faithfulness, rooted in an adult’s desire to share what they wished they knew at that age.

2. A Unified Church Displays the Gospel to the World Around Us

What other mission could possibly unite people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and age like the gospel of Jesus Christ? In a culture where teenage rebellion is normalized, we have an opportunity to display the uniting power of the gospel to a world full of unbelievers.

Whether it’s leading the people of God in worship through music, serving on the audio/visual team, greeting, setting up and tearing down, teenagers and adults serving together displays the glory of God. Consider how you might plug your students into service opportunities during church events and the weekly gathering. By serving together, the walls between teens and adults quickly come down and relationships are formed.

3. We Have an Opportunity to Train Students to Lead

Teenagers who trust in Jesus for salvation have a part to play in the church. They need adults who are willing to take the time to train them and teach them what it means to use their gifts to serve others. The encouragement from a caring adult is powerful. These words of life are useful in the spiritual formation of young believers.

As a minister of the gospel, I’m always working myself out of a job. This truth extends to all of us. We all need to be training up those who will replace us. When we hold on to our roles within the church with clenched fists, we are keeping some of the most gifted and passionate individuals from being able to serve. Instead of seeking to hold on to our positions for our own good, we have an opportunity to show young people what it looks like to serve in humility.

Student pastors, let me encourage you to take this season to reevaluate your student ministry. Consider how you might use your position to connect other adults with teenagers!

Is there another reason I didn’t mention? Have something you’d like to add? Leave a comment or reach out to me on the connect page.

Why Working with Youth Isn’t As Scary As You Think

Teenagers are a different breed. I was reminded of this fact last week as I got up to begin youth and a middle schooler was creating a goldfish fish tank in his mouth: chugging some Dr. Pepper, then adding the delicious cheddar snack so it might swim around before being consumed. Actions like this (and the overall fear of adolescence) lead adults to alienate themselves from their church’s student ministry. Let me take a moment to convince you why working with you isn’t quite as scary as you might think.

We are all capable of providing the one thing students long for the most- sincerity. Teenagers hunger for an adult who will be genuine and honest. They’re not looking for an act or for someone who tries extra hard to relate to them. It doesn’t take a flawless knowledge of Snapchat, Instagram, or Tik-Tok to earn the right to talk to students. In fact, as I seek to build my adult leadership team, I look for someone who can be genuine.

To get to the heart of the issue, sincerely is something we all desire. There’s something about knowing someone is consistent regardless of the environment they’re in. In the gospel, we see how Jesus’ death on the cross in our place frees us to be honest about who we are. Paul says in Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” What leads us to call upon the name of the Lord? An honest view of ourselves, It’s only when we recognize who we are and stop trying to save ourselves that we find salvation in Christ.

In the same way, once we have received this salvation, we are free to be honest with the sins and struggles in our life. We aren’t honest in terms of seeking to stay in sin, but knowing that through sharing our sins, God purifies us to conform us into the image of Christ. James 5:16 says it this way, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” We are wired to receive healing from our sins when we confess them.

Student ministry can still be intimidating, even for me. But God has already given us everything we need. Still on the fence about serving in your church’s student ministry? Why not give it a try? Be you, and see how God uses you.

Be a Leader Who Equips Leaders

One of the ways I’ve framed human sinfulness is rooted in answering this question: Whose name will I seek to make great? The Bible is clear that the root of our sinfulness is a desire to elevate our own name above God’s. This temptation hasn’t changed since the garden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit while listening to the voice of the Serpent who told them they would be “like God” (Genesis 3:5).

We see this same desire to make a name for ourselves show itself in the desire to handle things on our own. The nature of the call we’ve been given by Christ is to multiply and “make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20) of the gospel. As a student minister, my job is not only to preach the gospel, but to partner with parents in training their kids up that they might lead the way in multiplying this gospel as they are going to the neighborhoods and nations.

It’s impossible to properly fulfill the job of discipling others if we aren’t using our position of leadership to multiply leaders. For adult leaders, these roles look like small group leaders, prayer partners, and chaperones for trips. For students, it means giving them appropriate opportunities to help shape the culture of the student ministry, helping them see where they are gifted, and then helping them use the gifts the Lord has given them.

Here are three reasons why you should be a leader who equips leaders:

1) Because You Won’t Always Be the Youth Pastor

Even though I just started my position at my current church six months ago, I do try to keep this thought in the back of my mind. It’s not because I always have one foot out the door. Instead, it’s rooted in the reminder that this ministry is a part of a bigger reality: an eternal mission of God for the nations of the world. If I really believe this is true, I have to minister with the end goal in mind for everyone involved in my ministry. This means I need to be serving in such a way that I’m not winning people to my style or preference, but I’m winning them to the Savior who never changes.

Many of us focus in so closely on the weekly details and lose sight of the bigger picture. When the Lord does call us to transition to a new role, we end up leaving without anyone else knowing the practical ins and outs of how we handled the ministry or why we did the specific events in the first place.

In many ways, to be faithful to the ministry is to always be working ourselves out of a job. We need to be training others to understand what it looks like to disciple others. To serve well means that when we leave, we aren’t leaving a huge hole where we were; it means that the ministry continues going seamlessly, as if we were never there.

2) Because Students Need to Hear from Other Adults

I’m passionate about helping teenagers understand their role in the church. I strongly believe that we are doing ourselves a disservice when we separate out our student ministries and never involve them in the programming of the church as a whole (I imagine this topic alone could be a series of posts). One of the ways we can help cultivate an understanding of this reality is by having different trusted voices from within the church speak into their lives.

While this includes times of teaching through the Word during the week and having guest speakers on annual youth trips, I’m also talking using my role as the student pastor to create more opportunities for adults to create meaningful and intentional connections with students. For this to happen, these adults need the chance to lead- whether in small groups, games, annual events, or in other places your ministry may have.

Creating an atmosphere where students are hearing the same truth from multiple voices helps them relate their faith to a community instead of a personality. When they leave the student ministry and move on to college, instead of looking for someone just like their student pastor, they’re looking for a community which teaches the same truths they’ve heard for many years. They need to know how faith in the gospel is not only lived out alone, but in the context of community. Multiplying leaders is a clear example of this truth.

3) Because Ministry is Easier on a Team

I share this point knowing that in one sense, ministry is never necessarily “easy”. As a pastor, we walk with students through some of the hardest and darkest times of their life, in order to be a physical reminder of God’s presence. Yet, I think there’s truth to the fact that when we multiply leaders, it frees us to be more present in those moments.

Picture the difference between being responsible for every aspect of a ministry, down to the most minute details: games, music, and lesson for the youth worship service, planning monthly events (with all of the finances, the sign-ups, and the scheduling), planning yearly trips, fundraising, other outside ministry opportunities, outreach into the community, service projects, and the other roles with the rest of the church staff. It’s easy to see how time can easily be absorbed in those things, with no time to spare for the chance to be present with students.

Now imagine if you have the opportunity to train up people to help with some of those roles. Suddenly, you only have to worry about a lesson for the youth service. Maybe a couple of parents or other volunteers have been trained up to lead the way in fundraising. Outreach events are now planned through small group leaders you’ve trained, in addition to the service projects for the students. Suddenly, the work load is nearly halved, meaning that you can put your time into one of the most important aspects of the job: relationships.

The reality is that in ministry, we don’t need more people trying to play the hero. We shouldn’t be seeking to make a name for ourselves. Instead, we should see ourselves as players in an eternal mission of God for the nations of the world. When we understand this, we’ll see the benefit in being a leader who equips leaders.

The Power of Great Adult Leaders

Over the weekend, our student ministry took a trip into the mountains for our Winter Retreat. This trip is one of my favorite type of trips and has quickly become a foundational event in my ministry. I love having a weekend to get away and spend time in the Word away from distractions. To be honest, there seems to be something about breaking routines helps set the stage for us to receive what God is teaching us through His Word. 

As I’ve had a few moments to think about the work being done on this trip, I’ve been reminded of something I think I’ve known for a while, but I have finally had the chance to experience: adult leaders make all the difference.

To start, they connect with far more students. One of the first things I did when I came on board with my current church was have a leader meeting. Before I could lead us in any direction, I had to make sure I had cast a vision and had leaders on board. The analogy I used (lovingly given to me by my Father-in-law) focuses on the idea of fishing.

We can compare connecting students into the group like casting a line out into the water. When a student comes into the group for the first time, I can try to catch all of them and build relationships with them as the student pastor. While there’s a responsibility for me to be known by the students, I could never have close relationships with every student in the group- even a small group.

But what if, instead of using a single line, we were fishing using a net? What if adult leaders were actively getting to know students and had deep relationships with a few? Among multiple adult leaders, every student would be known and cared for as they needed. With one line, we get one fish; with a net, we catch many.

Naturally, connecting with students means that adult leaders are essential to small groups, as well. The way this winter trip is structured, our times of teaching are immediately followed by what we call “Breakout Groups”. These groups are our small groups, divided by age and gender, used to help tease out many of the concepts introduced in the time of teaching. They are, by far, the most important part of the entire retreat. Over the years, I have seen God do so much in students’ lives as they have the opportunity to talk about the issues and ask questions they had. 

These groups are so successful because the adult leaders over the students know them well. Even over the course of this short trip, I’ve seen the relationships between the students and adults grow. These leaders can use this time to take the questions I’ve given them and address the issues that come up over the course of discussion. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing to see and experience. 

Adult leaders provide accountability. We need people we can trust to watch out backs, help small issues stay small issues, and anticipate any concerns or needs of the group. There is no replacement for the encouragement adult leaders can provide in difficult times.

All of this- accountability, encouragement, and relationships- is rooted in the perspective adult leaders offer. So don’t go alone. I encourage you to build a team of adult leaders and see the difference it makes!