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Secret Student Leadership Program

Student Leadership Program is Not a Secret Club

By Jesse Criss September 23, 2019

A few years ago, I remember coming across a youth worker describing their student leadership program. They empowered students, had monthly training opportunities and even had students plan and prepare events. However, there was one very large problem… it was all secret.

First rule of Leadership program is that we don’t talk about leadership program

Student leadership in youth ministry cannot be a secret club because you can’t be an influencer if no one knows who you are. 

Students were not to tell people they were involved in student leadership. They couldn’t tell their friends, and there were guidelines of what you could and couldn’t talk about, even with family members who might have also been in Youth Group. Basically, it was a “the first rule of fight club is that we don’t talk about fight club” situation.

The hard part is that this was not an isolated incident; I’ve come across lots of youth ministries that do something similar. The push is that by making it “secret” it somehow prevents both favoritism and the group from getting too big to manage. My guess is that it’s probably more about preventing the Pastor/Leader from having tough conversations or saying no to some students getting involved.

Regardless of the situation or reason, student leadership in youth ministry cannot be a secret club because you can’t be an influencer if no one knows who you are. 

You are the light of the world

Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew-5:16-student leadership
© Roger Coles

I love the challenge Jesus has for us here in these verses. It makes absolutely no sense to light a lamp and place it under a bowl in a dark room. It is absolutely no help to anyone, not the “lamp” nor the “room”. A person lights a lamp in order to influence the darkness in a room. It’s the proximity to the lamp that changes the room. Without it, you will just trip all over yourself.

In the same way, keeping student leadership hidden can become destructive. In fact, I think it fuels the very things it’s intended to prevent: favoritism, being unable to ask for help, and dancing around people to avoid tough conversations as a result of it being hidden in the first place. Instead of student leadership making your youth ministry a better place, it hinders the work God wants to do in and through your student leaders. 

Here are 7 better approaches to leading student leadership program in your youth ministry:

  1. Put these students front and center in your groups. (Learn about how to get student leaders to speak first.)
  2. Give them opportunities to leverage their influence
  3. Be open about expectations and group size if it needs to be limited
  4. Create applications and processes, but do it in the open, not hidden
  5. Invite your church to pray for and encourage your student leaders
  6. Celebrate the work they are doing 
  7. Actively invite new students to join; you will be surprised at the diversity and growth new blood brings to a group

Students can’t influence students if no one knows they’re influencers.


Learn more about developing student leaders in your youth ministry with a practical, interactive workbook with 5 assessments.

Student Leaders Start Here Leadership Program

About the Author

Jesse Criss

Jesse Criss is the founder of Fresh Ministry Consulting, a ministry that exists to help pastors, leaders, and churches get the tools they need to impact students with the Gospel of Jesus. Jesse got his start in youth ministry at the age of 18 and now has more than 20 years of experience in youth ministry. His…  Read More