Strengthening Leaders in Student MinistryBy Amir Kashtan
April 18, 2020
Towards the end of my military service, the Israeli Defense Forces gave me the distinct honor of training future combat commanding officers and assigning them to leadership positions—a role God has powerfully used in my life to teach me strategic and practical approaches to strengthening leaders. When I first began working in ministry, I learned that recruiting, developing, and implementing volunteers into the various ministries of the church was no easy task! Let’s face it, I’ve never known an area of service in which congregants can be placed and prove perfectly equipped to lead without previous training. Regardless of your church’s age, size, demographic, or even financial situation, the strengthening of your leaders is a relevant need requiring purposeful determination.
Working in Student Ministry, it is crucial for pastors to remember that their Student Ministry should not function in its own box. Like a platoon working within the confines of a company, a Student Ministry is not separate from a church, its mission, and its distinctives. As a church within the Great Commission Collective, I assume that your church and its ministries prioritize making disciples of Jesus and for Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). Additionally, since Student Ministry is connected to the church’s vision and mission, it is important to understand that successfully developing student leaders will influence the health of the church as a whole. Trained leaders are leaders that can be used in various leadership positions, perhaps as adult small group leaders, deacons, and, possibly, even elders. How amazing would it be to see the leader you are discipling today in your Student Ministry one day become an elder, or even a pastor, at your church or another, planted by your church?
While I imagine you share my excitement in strengthening your church’s leaders, I sympathize with you if you’re also overwhelmed by how to embark on this mission. It can seem daunting. Take heart and pray. The Lord will be faithful to guide you. In my student ministry, I’ve devised and implemented a five-step strategy, 5E’s, I follow to strengthen leaders:
Step One: Exemplify.
I’ve seen many well-meaning leaders fall into the trap of assuming that to disciple another is simply to befriend another. This is contrary to the example given by Paul in Corinthians, when he said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV). We are called to exemplify Christ to those we disciple, not just to serve alongside them. We must be intentional about exemplifying our Christ-focused ministry philosophy before our leaders, not only our relationship with Christ. Show your leaders what a healthy shepherding relationship with students should look like, by your own example. Emphasize the importance of the leader-parent relationship by demonstrating it and giving your leaders a model in how to fulfill their leadership role.
Step Two: Explain.
As a student pastor, be intentional about explaining to your leaders the why behind what you do in your Student Ministry. Explain why you chose to play the game you played, why you preach the sermon series you are preaching, why you handled a particular parent interaction the way you did, and why you made a rule that you made. You are responsible to both have a reason behind why you do what you do, and to explain it to your leaders, because chances are they won’t know to ask. Should you skip this step, you must understand that you limit your own ability to strengthen your leaders.
Step Three: Engage.
Engage your leaders by partnering with them. Don’t hoard your student ministry, when you can give your leaders opportunities to realize and stretch their God-given gifts alongside you. While remaining actively involved, perhaps consider letting them lead parts of a small group with you, share in your preaching responsibilities, or work with you to create and run a game. In this step, the leader should get a taste of leadership in a controlled (by you!) environment, which gives you the opportunity to expound upon how you do what you do, not just why.
Step Four: Examine.
After working arm in arm, you can take a small step back to examine how your leaders apply what they have learned. Mentor them through opportunities you give them to lead. Be present, taking time to observe their actions, so that you can give needed direction and feedback.
Step Five: Enable.
The last step of strengthening leaders occurs when you have significant trust in your leader’s ability to lead without you. For the health of your leaders, you shouldn’t micro-manage them anymore. You must come to a point where you enable a leader to practice what they’ve learned. By no means am I advocating the abandonment of a leader but, when the time is right, you should enjoy stepping back to see how the Spirit will work through the disciple you’ve labored to make.This strategy is not simple math. These steps take time, but I can assure you that, with patience, I’ve seen leaders being strengthened and trust that you will, too. After all, it took Jesus, Himself, three years to go through similar steps, so don’t give up! I pray that God gives you wisdom as you strive to find and develop leaders for His glory.