Reimagine Student Leadership

By Doug Franklin June 15, 2017

It starts with a dream. At some point, once we’ve gotten into a rhythm with our church and have built rapport, we start dreaming about student leadership. We dream about the small team of super-responsible and committed students who will be unified for the entire school year. This team is a delight to be around, is teachable, and it energizes our own passion to help students grow. On a great day, it even helps lighten our workload. And when we say our final goodbyes to these students and send them off to college, they, of course, will be the leaders on campus who reflect Christ at every turn.

But then reality strikes.

  • Students are busier than ever. They are just as easy to commit as they are to back out–especially if it’s difficult.
  • Parents are more demanding than ever. When it comes to their stu­dent, they want the college resume boost that being on the student leadership team promises, but view any sort of challenge or hardship their student faces as a mistake–your mistake.
  • Great adult volunteers are rare. Adults who can be transformational with students are hard to find, and when we do find them, they are already serving in multiple roles (inside and outside of your youth ministry). This basically means that student leadership is up to you.
  • Last, but not least, in both our dreams and realities, student leader­ship is more costly and messy than doing anything yourself.

Making dreams a reality.

Before I get painted as a dream-killer, let me offer some hope. Obviously, there are some sweeping statements here. Whether they are partially true or wholly true, the traditional student leadership team of the past is harder to do than ever. With sports schedules alone, asking for a year-long commitment is almost laughable. Fortunately, growing students into godly leaders happens in all sorts of ways: teams, mentoring relationships, projects, and small groups. It also happens in all sorts of places, from youth rooms to van rides to coffee shops

So what if we kept the outcomes of our dreams and applied them to the new reality of our situation?

Dream Outcomes:
Students who have been molded into confident, ready, and rooted leaders who reflect Christ.

New Reality: Busy and over committed students who love the easy way out, and adult volunteers who lack time and experience to develop them as leaders.

What I mean is, what if student leadership wasn’t another program we add on top of our youth ministries and busy schedules, but was something we integrated into what we’re already doing? What if our youth ministries were actually leadership laboratories, allowing students to develop their leadership skills, test their strengths, and stretch their faith muscles.

Incorporating student leadership into your whole ministry is really only a slight change. In the past, it would have been a giant, programmatic change–something that required budgets, meetings, space, and agendas in order to launch a full-out Student Leadership Team. But if we incorporate student leadership into the programs we’re already doing, with the adult volunteers we already have, the biggest change takes place in you. Your role becomes less about the execution of programs (although they still get done) and more about the apprentices who are a part of the process. Taking advantage of leadership labs gives us a new freedom to develop leaders in short term teams and projects, in mentoring relationships, or even in a small, long-term team of 2-3. It allows more students to be developed, and the flexibility for everyone to live out outside of a yearlong commitment.

Take a look at Reimagine Student Leadership for practical tools, creative solutions, and real examples of how to make student leadership work in today’s reality of student ministries. Download a FREE copy here.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More