The Challenge of Challenging Students

By Angie Franklin August 14, 2017

Remember back in high school that one dreaded day in gym class when you had fitness testing? It was the day you had to run the mile, see how many pull ups and sit ups you could do, and take in the depressing news of your body fat percentage. Lastly, after you had maxed out every muscle possible, it was time for the sit and reach test. Your feet were flat against the measurement box, and you had three chances to reach as far past your toes as you could. Challenging students in their leadership is a lot like the sit and reach test in gym.

There was a reason my gym teacher gave us three tries at that station, it’s because every time we reached, we could reach a little bit farther. And even if I felt like I gave it my all the first time, I could go farther the second time. My tendons and muscles stretched the first reach and made them more flexible for the next reach. So as I kept trying, I would go from a 24 to a 25 to a 25.5.

Challenge in increments

It’s the same when we challenge students. It’s hard, but it yields much fruit. Our students might be comfortable at a 23, which means it’s time to challenge them to a 24. Then, as their muscles warm up and their confidence grows, they are ready to try for 25, and so on. The tricky part is not asking for 25 until 24 is reached. Not only is it impossible, but our students will leave disheartened or broken. And when our students are in this condition, it is much more likely that they’ll give up and slowly begin to drop out of our ministries.

“You’ll never be able to get the most growth out of each student unless every adult leader and volunteer in your ministry believes in challenging students in this way.”

Challenge different students in different ways, at different levels

Remember, some students start out comfortable at 60, while others are comfortable at 10. The same challenge won’t work for the entire group—it has to be individual as well as corporate. You’ll never be able to get the most growth out of each student unless every adult leader and volunteer in your ministry believes in challenging students in this way.

Let me give you an example. One student walks into youth group, and just standing there is a risk for him. We’ve all met him; he’s alone, doesn’t have many friends, and says little. Many times, we don’t see him twice. But as an adult volunteer reaches out to him, he gets plugged into a small group. His adult leader has figured out that he won’t say a word during their meetings, so the leader challenges him to say one comment per meeting (the first stretch). Eventually, that grows into praying out loud at the end of each meeting (a medium stretch), and pretty soon, it grows to greeting the next new person that comes to youth group (a bigger stretch). As one challenge leads to another, this student becomes the student leader in charge of outreach in their youth group (the biggest stretch).

Caring adult + challenge increments = a powerful student in the Kingdom

Most students will never be leaders on day one. But with a caring adult and challenge by increments, they will start to believe that they can be a leader. Imagine if every one of our students walked out of our youth ministries with that belief. What would the kingdom of God start to look like? Challenge can be a powerful tool in our hands, when we are intentional about using it.

About the Author

Angie Franklin

Angie Franklin is the publisher at LeaderTreks and has worked in youth ministry since 2000. She loves serving youth workers who are in the trenches by providing them with practical resources. She is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and now lives in West Chicago, Illinois with her husband, Doug, and their dog, Diesel (who they…  Read More