A main reason why many of us got into youth work to begin with was that we actually believe in youth. Like all great teachers, we think that they can do amazing things. As a youth pastor I started taking my cue from the schools I was visiting.
I never went to a school to watch the adults in charge - not once. The adults were always behind the scenes, empowering and releasing students to do what they do best. After watching those educators for years, I knew I had to get off of the stage and truly start developing students. I honestly think that is why students are struggling today with church and with faith. They never found a place or a role for themselves in the Church - a place where they could really dive in, use their gifts, be a part of something bigger than themselves, and soar. Students today long for transcendence - they truly want to contribute to something that is larger than themselves. Now sure, youth ministry has done a decent job getting some students in the band to lead worship, but for the most part, American youth go to church to watch the adults in charge do their thing. And then we wonder why we see little engagement, little growth, and not much sustainability.
It's actually quite funny or maybe just sad -> we leave youth group and we ask our spouse or friends, "so was my talk OK, did I do alright?" Then they affirm us and we feel good about ourselves. But to me this just seems backwards. But its also typical - most things in the country that was once put in place for students have been reversed and is now about the adults in charge. We're good at making things about us aren't we...? (see Chap Clarks book, Hurt, for more on this).
Now, it's not that we haven't done student development. This time of year, all around the country youth groups are on mission trips. Students are living the way of Jesus, contributing, using their gifts. They are coming alive because of it! They actually have a role to play, they are engaged and are finally doing it. But then we go back home to systems that squash everything we put in place on the mission. Ugh!
Many of us are longing to see a change - we want to see a movement happen in youth ministry - where youth ministry is about youth development, discipleship, investment, and commissioning. I'm hoping that youth work actually becomes YOUTH work = youth doing the work, being equipped and empowered to use their gifts and abilities.
Student Leadership as an Add-On
Now, a lot of has been said and written about on the topic of student leadership. Yet, in my opinion, it’s one of the biggest struggles in youth ministry. There are systemic issues that have kept us from actually seeing great student leadership happen. Maybe it’s because we treat it like an add-on. We have our weekly youth group meetings, weekly small groups, and monthly activities, followed by retreats, camps, and mission trips leaving little room to also throw into the mix a student leadership program. Many have tried to do it and what began with great excitement fizzled out as roadblocks popped up. So what do we do?
Here are what I believe to be some keys to a great student development programs. I offer them with a WARNING - it might get you fired.
Step 1. Begin by killing all of your programs
Step 2. Let the students rebuild the ministry
Step 3. Give them the keys to drive what’s developed
Step 4. Put students on teams with adult point people to run the new ministry (adults as point people is a vital to the discipleship)
Step 5. Your role becomes instigator, listener, empower-er, pursuer of students, and the great encourager
Step 6. Let them, and it, fail
Step 7. Make student leadership meetings become first priority for the ministry
Step 8. Never do a solo anything again - even tag-team talks with students
Step 9. Embrace the messy
Step 10. Watch and enjoy exponential growth in your students lives
If you want to discover a great method and program for student involvement, click here.
An oldie but a goody - students can do amazing things!