leadertreks youth ministry case for student leadership

The Case for Student Leadership Development

In a recent LeaderTreks Youth Ministry survey, we asked youth pastors if they thought leadership development in youth ministry was important. An overwhelming 76% strongly agreed that leadership development is important in youth ministry. But, when we asked if they had a comprehensive leadership development program in their youth ministry, only 10% indicated that their church had such a program. The disconnection is clear. As youth workers, we want to develop student leaders, but we don’t know how.


The first step to developing strong leadership in our youth ministries is to determine our core beliefs about leadership. Understanding these beliefs is essential to teaching leadership; otherwise, we are just having another meeting. LeaderTreks believes:

  1. Leadership can be learned
    Anyone, at anytime, can develop this teachable skill and exercise leadership by applying specific principles.
  2. Everyone can benefit from learning about leadership
    Learning about leadership will help students identify areas of their lives that need improvement. Better still, it motivates them to make those changes.
  3. Leadership changes everything
    Great leadership is always the driving force behind great change. People look to leaders who stand tall and change lives in the midst of uncertainty. Leaders have a profound effect on those around them.

These leadership truths are important for us to remember. Leadership is not just for the responsible students. Leadership development will produce character, spiritual growth, purpose, and maturity in everyone. As a result, some will find themselves in leadership roles within their team. For a few, it will lead to making sacrifices that will change the world.


Every youth ministry has a different definition of what a student leader is. Some youth pastors say they have a comprehensive leadership development program, but their program consists of students coming early to youth group to hang out with the youth pastor and set up the chairs. Others tell me their program focuses on character development and becoming a person of influence. Still others tell me they have strong student leaders who love the Lord and love getting together for Bible study and personal accountability; they make up the spiritual core of the group. Not all these models of ministry can be leadership development, so which model is really developing leaders?

At LeaderTreks youth ministry, we are convinced that leadership development is a combination of principles and experiences.


Students must understand universal truths about leadership. They must also have the opportunity to put those principles into action, realize the consequences of their decisions, and see projects through to completion.


We teach leadership based on how we think leaders develop. There is a lot of talk about the importance of leadership, but very few are telling you how you develop a leader. At LeaderTreks youth ministry we have created a model that effectively develops students into leaders.

  1. Students must learn a set of leadership principles or universal truths about leadership.
  2. Students must apply these principles to real leadership experiences where their decisions lead to success or failure; then they must live with the consequences.
  3. These experiences have to be challenging; students have to move outside of their comfort zone for transformational change to take place.
  4. Evaluation is the key that brings the process together. When students learn to ask tough questions, they discover how to apply those leadership lessons to their lives.

Leadership development is a process. It does not happen overnight. Students need to have multiple experiences in leadership roles so that they may understand the pressure to lead and the humility needed to follow.

All LeaderTreks ministry products are based on this model. Developing leadership is a continual process. It can be taught and it can be sharpened, but it doesn’t happen by accident.


We must teach the universal truths of leadership. For lots of youth pastors, it seems this is when leadership development gets a little scary. Most youth pastors may not feel like they know enough about how leadership works to teach it to students. They may live it out everyday personally, but it’s tough to explain it to students. I believe this is why youth pastors sometimes focus on character development and less on leadership.

The truths about leadership are well documented. Warren Bennis, John Maxwell, and many others have all have pointed us to the truths about leadership. LeaderTreks believes it is essential for youth ministries to agree on a common approach to student leadership development so we can design tools and training events to help students develop as leaders.

To help youth workers, LeaderTreks has identified seven key components of a comprehensive student leadership development program. These components constitute what students need to know and be able to do to become effective Christian leaders.

  1. Students must have a definition of leadership and must understand the basic premise that leadership can be learned.
  2. Students must understand that leadership is a set of principles that can be applied to any situation.
  3. Students must understand who leaders are, what leaders need, and what leaders do.
  4. Students must understand there are two sides to leadership: doing and being. Doing and being must be in balance for leadership to be effective.
  5. Students must understand self leadership. They must have a clear understanding of their gifts, talents, and unique abilities.
  6. Students must understand team leadership. They must have a clear understanding of how to lead followers.
  7. Students must understand that leadership can change everything. They must have a clear understanding of the power of leadership.

By studying and learning these components students will have the tools to lead now. These seven building blocks will give students a strong foundation of knowledge and practice of leadership.


Basic Premise: Leadership changes everything.

This statement is hard to deny. It is easy to think of many examples in the Bible where God used leaders to make great changes. Biblical examples like David, Nehemiah, Joshua, Peter, and Paul were men who not only led but also pursued God with their whole hearts. At a young age, Joshua started following Moses around. Moses invested in Joshua with the purpose of creating a leader who could lead the people when he was gone. Joshua became the man God used to lead His people into the Promised Land. Jesus found a rough fisherman named Peter and took him under His wing for three years. Through the process of failure and mentoring, Peter was shaped for leadership. He became the backbone of the early church and his influence is still felt today.

These people didn’t just fall into leadership roles, they grew into them. Throughout their lives they were able to affect everyone around them and make a difference for eternity. God’s plan centers on faithful Christians who are willing to do what is necessary to be effective for Him. It is the job of Christians to develop themselves, with God’s help, into the most useful tools possible for the Kingdom.

Theology Statement: We believe that God’s Plan in building His Kingdom requires fully developed student leaders ready to assume real leadership roles.

The Church needs strong Christian leaders. As Christians, we all have a responsibility to God to develop ourselves as leaders in order to be of the most use in the Kingdom. We also have a responsibility to hand off the reigns of leadership to those on the path behind us. Students are ready and able to learn leadership principles. The next generation of church leaders is sitting in youth ministries right now. In light of this, student leadership development is not only a good idea, it is essential for building God’s Kingdom.

Paradigm Shift: Youth ministry is responsible to develop the next generation of Christian leaders.

The current paradigm of youth ministry will no longer meet the needs of a growing church. For years the goal of youth ministry has been to entertain students long enough to get them in the church doors. Focusing on bringing students into a program does not equip them to lead. When we cater to students instead of investing in them, we are creating a generation of people who are not motivated to be world changers.

New Focus: Students must see youth ministry as their outreach to the world.

Instead of focusing inward, youth workers must focus outward. They must develop students who are equipped to lead. This paradigm shift requires a dramatic change in thinking among youth workers. Students must be challenged, not made comfortable. Students must be equipped, not entertained. Students must be released to lead, not relegated to the basement. This paradigm shift calls for courageous youth workers willing to stand against the tide, willing to believe in students. It calls for sacrifice and struggle, but it will ultimately be the key for God’s Kingdom.


LeaderTreks youth ministry is calling the church to make leadership development a core of youth ministry. Much like discipleship and evangelism, we feel leadership development is the key to seeing the church grow and the culture change. It’s our belief that the church is one generation away from a leadership void and if we don’t intentionally develop leaders, the church will struggle. To that end, we developed the LeaderTreks model to serve churches as they develop student leaders. We believe in partnership. Every curriculum, training event and trip we lead is designed to accompany and strengthen youth pastors’ efforts to develop student leaders. How can we serve you?