The following post was written by Chris Swain, Director of LifeWay Student Ministry Publishing
Leading is a challenge for anybody, but leading leaders presents an even greater challenge. As a student ministry leader you must develop those who serve in your area. Through prayer, discipleship, and strategy, you must help your leaders have the best opportunity to use their gifts to impact students for the Kingdom.
One of the greatest challenges in leading leaders is that without nurturing a leader can fall into one of three categories:
- Repetition. This leader learns the ropes and then operates like ministry is a bottle of shampoo, rinsing and repeating until told to stop or change. While leaders who fall into this pattern can be some of our strongest, it is up to us to help them see the problems with this kind of leadership. Repetition is great for learning, but it becomes tiresome and boring for students over time. Eventually the students they lead will check out. Or worse, they will think the leader doesn’t care enough to put more effort into his or her leadership.
- The Bare Minimum. This leader means well but actively seeks out the least he or she can do. Whether it is the result of an overly crowded schedule, poor preparation or planning, or a lack of care, this kind of pattern is a challenge for any ministry. Students will quickly discern that the leader cares only as much as he or she has too.
- Overcommitted. The leader that is overcommitted wants badly to work with students and make an impact, but they have over extended their commitment in terms of what they can do. It may be that they have a student in the ministry and desire to play a roll because of that connection. Or it may be that the leader has a burden to serve and does so at the expense of his or her personal or work schedule. Students are often let down or disappointed in this leader when he or she doesn’t deliver on commitments when the schedule forces him or her to miss key moments.
There is no question that these three challenges are present in student ministry. As a leader you must evaluate your leaders and determine if any fall into these three categories. Once you make that conclusion here are some ways you can help refocus them and help them be the leader God has called them to be to impact students for the Gospel:
- Pray. As always pray for your leaders. Pray for their specific needs. Pray for their families. This can be an element of your leadership that lacks because it is so taken for granted, but pray specifically and fervently for your leaders and watch how God changes them, and you in the process.
- Take time. Invite your leaders to meet and have coffee or come over to your house for dinner. Have conversations with them outside of the ministry context so you can get to know them, and allow them to really get to know you. It takes time for some leaders to feel comfortable enough to tell you about issues or challenges they face and building a relationship with them will help this process immensely. Taking time with your leaders will also allow you to see where they struggle and present you with the opportunity to challenge them and encourage them.
- Empower success. If one of your leaders is in the rut of repetition, pair them up with a leader who is not. Or even a leader who falls into one of the other categories. Often, when a leader has hit a rut or bump in leading they can be helped through with the intervention of another leader. Together leaders can help one another as they see the weaknesses and strengths of the other in action.
- Be candid. No matter how challenging, our leaders simply need to hear the truth. If a leader is overcommitted, point out what you see and help them understand how this can impact the ministry. If a leader is doing only the minimum, challenge them to step up and lead in a way they haven’t before. This step is never easy, but you owe it to your leaders to be honest with them and help them develop as they pursue God’s call to serve. You also owe it to your ministry and your students to be candid with your leaders as well.
- Operate with grace. No leader is perfect. What we may see as a major flaw is still an area in which Jesus can work in the life of your leaders. While you must lead well and make difficult decisions that impact your ministry, every leader, just like every student, is on a journey with Christ experiencing the process of sanctification. Love your leaders and lead as Christ led His disciples. Be strong, lead with passion, but also extend the grace of Christ to each and every leader as they walk with you through the journey of leading students.
One of the great challenges of leading student ministry is being a leader of leaders. But this is also one of the greatest rewards. As you walk with your leaders through good and bad times, challenges and victories, you experience ministry together impacting students’ lives eternally. There really is nothing else like it. Through all of the heartache and issues that come with the messy calling of ministering to students, it is worth the time and effort to help your leader refocus when they get off track or in a rut.