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student ministry, youth ministry, how to challenge students

Seed. Soil. Water… Leader. Life. Challenge!

By Doug Franklin October 31, 2013

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 percentage of body fat.  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 3 chances to reach as far past your toes as you could.  I’m bringing up this memory not because challenge is supposed to be physical, but because challenging students is a lot like that sit and reach test.

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

Challenge in increments
It’s the same with challenging students.  They might be comfortable at a 23, which means its 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, because not only is it impossible, but our students will leave disheartened or broken.  And in that condition, they’ll give up and will slowly begin to drop out of our ministries.

Challenge different students in different ways, at different levels
Remember, some students start out comfortable at 60, while others are comfortable at 10. So, the same challenge won’t work for the entire group.  Challenge has to be individual as well as corporate, which means that every adult leader and volunteer in your ministry needs to believe in challenging students.  Otherwise, you’ll never be able to get the most growth out of each student.

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 his with saying one comment per meeting (24).  Eventually, that challenge grows into praying out loud at the end of each meeting (25), and pretty soon, it grows to greeting the next new person that comes to youth group (26). As one challenge leads to another, this student becomes the student leader in charge of outreach in their youth group (35).

Caring Adult + Challenge increments = a Powerful Student in the Kingdom
This student would have never been that leader on day one.  But with a caring adult, and challenge by increments, this student is starting 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

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