When developing student leaders, you must distinguish between a project and a process. A project is a temporary, organized effort that creates a unique deliverable product, service or plan. A process continues on with no defined end. Student leadership is a process.
Luke 2:52 illustrates a wonderful developmental model of holistic growth. It says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” The key word is grew. There was a process taking place in his maturation. Likewise, we must allow our students to experience the process of growth into leadership and not be focused merely on the ultimate outcome.
Our teenagers need to know what it is like to struggle and prepare for an activity, wrestle with the responsibility of evangelism, try to display servanthood in their own homes, know the lonely feeling of leaving the crowd instead of following it, and experience the trials of living righteously. Here are a few thoughts on how to take students through such a process:
- Have a clear understanding of discipleship. It’s life-on-life, not classroom sessions talking about life.
- Don’t tell youth they can be anything they wan to be; that implies they already possess all the gifts and talents that exist. Instead, help them discover their individual gifts and talents.
- Don’t applaud mediocrity. Push students to fulfill their commitments.
- Hold students accountable. Their business (the way they live) is your business, and your business (the way you live) is theirs.
- Realize that you and your students are on a journey that’s continuous.
Part of this process involves engaging others beyond our young people’s immediate peer context. During my time as a youth pastor I facilitated a meeting between our youth and the senior adults in our church. Each group interviewed the other about their past and present lives. As the youth heard stories about the successes and failures of their elders, whom they had assumed were outdated and irrelevant members of society, they gained a new appreciation for just how much wisdom and understanding they possessed.
Likewise, our “senior saints,” who otherwise viewed our teenagers as loud, rebellious, and disrespectful, began to empathize with the issues they were struggling with. As a result of that event, our student leadership team decided to include some of these elder brothers and sisters on their advisory council.
Another vital element in the process of developing student leadership involves training and equipping our students. There is no sport I know of where the coach is satisfied with simply giving players information without requiring some form of practical application. No football coach is interested in how well you can read the playbook; he wants to know if you understand it and can execute it effectively. That’s why football players practice! Yet often we give our kids lots of information from the playbook (the Bible) and assume we’ve done our job. We seldom practice with them.
The problem is that we in the church have operated from a paradigm of institutionalized faith for a long time. We have assumed that faith is primarily nurtured in local church buildings. But if we hope to effectively pass on our faith, we must be willing to make a radical shift in our understanding of the process of cultivating leadership. We must connect young people’s faith to their families, churches, communities and culture; and then provide them with opportunities to practice living out that faith in each of those contexts.