10 “I Can Do That” Steps Toward Developing Student Leaders

While some youth ministry experts don’t believe that developing student leaders is a good idea (the theory being that student leadership programs add to the students already existing pressures), it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of student leadership and in helping students explore their giftedness and serve in ministry.

I’ve been asked about the methods I’ve used to develop students leaders, so I’ve put together a list of 10 “I can do that” steps. Let me be clear up front that the actions in this list are not as formulaic as they might imply, but these are steps that will give you an idea of what I’ll typically try to do in identifying and developing a relationship with a teenager and testing their leadership potential.

1. Identify teenagers whom seem to gravitate toward either serving and/or seem influential and/or are active within the group. Rarely does a teenager possess all three of those attributes.

2. Look for a positive attitude as you listen to how they talk about their peers, their school, their activities, the youth ministry, and Jesus.

3. After identifying a few of these types of students, take a risk and ask them to help with some project: set-up at church, message prep, cleaning my garage, running errands for camp. This helps me gauge interest-level and also allows me to spend “extra” time with them.

4. As the relationship develops, regularly invite them to do more projects, errands, or ministry tasks (i.e. hospital visitation, contact work—going to another kid’s game, etc.)

5. Ask this teenager to take on an important responsibility on your behalf (without your involvement). For example, when I was away on a speaking engagement, I called one of the guys in my 10th grade small group and asked if he would play the “host” to our weekly Bible Study to make sure everything goes okay. He was thrilled.

6. Most teenagers will consider it an honor to be asked to help out. It’s a statement of value, belief, and friendship. Ask, invite, empower, and then repeat the process. Every kid likes to be invited somewhere.

7. Follow-up by debriefing the experience with the teenager and see what he/she learned along the way.

8. Encourage! Thank students for their service and involvement! Show them that you’re not using them to help you get your work done, but you’re so excited to see them use their gifts and their time to do something with Kingdom impact.

9. Resource them. If you sense that there is interest for more growth, give them books to read (Help! I’m a Student Leader), blogs to visit (LeaderTreks.com), or send them an occasional article (“I read this and thought you might get something out of it.”)

10. Ask again! I’ve seen a teenager go from being in charge of the church van keys (on a trip) one year, to helping plan the trip the next year, to running the trip the following year.

Again, I created this list to help you think through some actions, but it’s never this formulaic in reality.

I believe teenagers are waiting to be asked to participate! They want to be involved in making a difference. I’m not suggesting you stress them out but only that you believe they are capable and invite them to taste different elements of ministry.

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Doug Fields

Doug Fields

Doug is the senior director of HomeWord Center for Youth and Family. Doug speaks to thousands of leaders, teens and parents each year. Doug provides leadership and resources as a part of the Youth Specialties Team. He has authored 50 books and blogs at Download Youth Ministry. Doug, Cathy and their three children live in Southern California.

  • About HomeWord

    HomeWord helps families succeed by creating Biblical resources that build strong marriages, confident parents, empowered kids and healthy leaders. Founded by Jim Burns and supported by Doug Fields, HomeWord and Azusa Pacific University have partnered to form The HomeWord Center for Youth and Family. Learn More »

  • About Azusa Pacific University

    APU is a leading Christian college ranked as one of the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review. Located near Los Angeles in Southern California, APU is a Christian university offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master's, doctoral, and degree completion programs, both on campus and online. Learn More »

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