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youth worker, youth ministry, student ministry, real vs percieved

Student Leadership: Real vs. Perceived

By Doug Franklin June 7, 2012

Student leadership is a hot topic in youth ministry circles today. Many youth workers feel a need to create a leadership program in their group, but don’t know where to start. To further cloud this issue, there are many different ideas about what student leadership really is and how to implement it. Often asked is the question, “Why hasn’t my leadership program lived up to my expectations?” Many youth ministry programs use the same leadership terms, but live them out in very different ways. The purpose of this post is to contrast the ineffective use of perceived leadership with the powerful approach of allowing students real opportunities to lead.



Youth ministers often face the danger of unknowingly creating a program based on perceived leadership. Perceived leadership is safe, unchallenging, and uninteresting. This is the type of leadership that does not allow a student the opportunity to face the consequences of his/her decision. A youth pastor in this program is always waiting in the wings to rescue the student before things get really bad. The student recognizes that his decisions really don’t matter because someone is always there to save him. Because of this, perceived leadership does not inspire the student to become better. Students are not fully committed to the program because nothing of consequence is required of them. Ultimately students lose interest in this type of program and the youth worker concludes that student leadership does not work.



An effective and life-changing student leadership program is characterized by exactly the opposite of perceived leadership. A real leadership program requires risk, sacrifice, and room for failure. Students need to be put into positions that are risky for them. The youth leader can do this by allowing them room for failure. Many of the greatest lessons in life are taught through failure. Failure in the safe environment of a good leadership program will not drive students away, but will make them more committed to the program. A good leadership program will also have a cost for the student. Sacrifice is key to ownership. Requiring student leaders to make sacrifices in order to be involved is vital. This creates an environment where students are constantly encouraged to become better. This encouragement and evaluation leads to growth and a deeper commitment to the program.

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