Youth ministry, student ministry, student leader, teach leadership principles

Five Marks of a Student Leader

By Mike McGarry February 14, 2017

As an introverted teenager with a mild stutter, I saw zero leadership ability in myself. Thankfully, my youth pastor gave me opportunities to teach Bible Study every few months, and he encouraged me to join the leadership team when another student wanted to start a Bible Study at our high school. I soon grew in my knowledge of leadership and in my confidence, and God used those experiences to call me into vocational ministry.

Years later, student leadership is now a core emphasis in my youth ministry. And whether you’re considering how to get started in building a student leadership program or if you have a well-established team, here are five critical marks or qualities to develop in your student leaders.

“We must teach students that Christian leadership flows from and is directed towards the gospel.”

1) Love God (Matthew 22:36-40)

Loving God must be the first priority for any Christian leader, followed by a deep concern and love for others. Without these, you’re a leader, not a Christian leader. We must teach students that Christian leadership flows from and is directed towards the gospel. If you’re not growing in your relationship with Christ, how can you expect to help others grow in their faith?

2) Servanthood (John 13:13-16)

As Christians, we want to be like Jesus, and Jesus came as a servant. We must help our students internalize that Christian leadership isn’t about titles or positions of power. We want them to be committed to those they’re leading, or else they’re simply using others to make themselves look good.

3) Initiative (1 Corinthians 12:4-12)

Leaders are team players who see a need and meet it. Leadership can be learned, and those who need consistent nudges and detailed instructions will have a steeper learning curve. At the same time, leaders who take self-centered initiative need to learn how to be good team members. By helping our student leaders know what they have to offer, they’ll be more likely to take initiative to use their gifts for the success of the team’s mission. We can help them understand that they need not always be loud and public; many of our students possess a quiet type of below-the-radar leadership that allows everyone else to be successful.

“I often tell my student leaders, ‘You can’t lead if you aren’t there.'”

4) Consistency (Philippians 2:19-20)

Leaders are finishers who keep their word. If you make half-hearted commitments, you can’t lead. If you start things but don’t finish them, you can’t lead. I often tell my student leaders, “You can’t lead if you aren’t there.” This is one of the greatest challenges for student leadership due to adolescent development, school and sports conflicts, and even parents who undervalue commitments to the youth ministry. Regardless, I want to set the expectation for my student leaders to be both consistent and reliable.

5) Warmth (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

If you’re cold and standoffish, it’s hard to be a Christian leader. God is love, and Christian leaders are called to reflect Christ to those we are leading. Students need to understand that leaders oftentimes have to make difficult and unpopular decisions, and warmth is essential in those challenging moments. If those we are leading do not feel valued and cared for, then they simply will not follow our lead.

Developing student leaders is an important aspect of student discipleship. Where students fail to see themselves as leaders, remind them of their calling as ambassadors of Christ. Keep in mind that students often stumble their way towards leadership. Be gracious and patient as you speak leadership into their lives and empower them to understand their own leadership style. Whether you are looking to start building a leadership team, or if you’ve had one for years, these are marks that are worth regularly discussing with your student leaders.

About the Author

Mike McGarry

Mike McGarry is the Youth Pastor at South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, MA. He is passionate about the role of the gospel and theology in our ministry to students and their parents. Mike is the author of A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry: Teenagers in the Life of the Church (Randall House Academic, 2019), is…  Read More