Eric Miller, director of ministry operations for CE National, talks with Angie Dallavalle, middle school director and Fletcher Abbott, high school director, both of Grace Community Church in Frederick Maryland about how to create a student leadership team.
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The purpose of a student leadership team
Often in youth ministry, churches claim to have a student leadership team, but without a clear purpose. Or, many youth ministries would like to have one but are unsure of how that works or what it is supposed to look like. In this Digital Lab, Eric, Angie, and Fletcher discussed the purpose of a student leadership team in the local church and practically what is necessary to help them thrive.
Angie shared that even before she started working in the youth ministry at their church, her observation of the teens’ active involvement impressed her and solidified her decision to make Grace Community her church home. Their church’s student leadership goal is to direct students to not be merely church consumers but be contributors- teaching them they have gifts they can share with others and giving them a voice. Once Angie became involved in the middle school ministry, she quickly realized they could duplicate the high school student leadership team model with their middle school students. They were just as capable to be involved in leadership. In turn, they have now seen their church start implementing leadership skills on the elementary school level and they are seeing students graduate high school equipped and still committed to the local church.
Fletcher has been with Grace Community for about two years and inherited the existing student leadership team with Lighthouse Youth Ministry (Grace Community’s student ministry program). Much like Angie, it was the focus on student leadership that drew him to the church and role of high school director. He was impressed with the unique church philosophy that youth ministry should be a student-led, adult-supported ministry that focused strongly on ownership. He observed students growing in their own faith and watching them become leaders while still teens; not waiting for them to graduate and then become involved.
The difference between student-led and a student ministry team
Eric posed the question, “What is the difference between a student ministry team and a student-led ministry?” Fletcher explained that a student ministry team is more task-oriented, finding things to keep the students busy and give them something to do. On the contrary, the philosophy of student-led ministry is all about ownership, giving students a voice to be a part of the entire process. Angie stated that a student leadership team can function as a title, where a student-led ministry has a voice and action to support the title and they can share specifics on how they are involved. Angie shared, “You start with the team, equip them, and then give them opportunities to lead and watch a student-led ministry develop.” Fletcher reminded it is not an overnight process. It takes time. It can also be a little scary to let go of certain areas and give students the freedom to try things and potentially fail at them. This is all part of the learning process.
Fletcher explained in order to define a student leadership team, you must first define what a student leader is. The word “leader” means many different things to different people. In his opinion, a leader is someone with influence. This can be positive or negative. His role as director is to help guide these students of influence to become godly and biblical leaders.
Practical Elements of establishing a student leadership team
After defining what a student leader was, Eric asked what the practical elements involved in establishing a team of these student leaders looked like. Fletcher explained this involves a level of ownership where students are expected to use their gifts and influence to benefit the group in a unique way. This will look different with each student and there is beauty in having diversity in your student leadership team. The leadership team should actively be involved in the planning and behind-the-scenes within their youth ministry so they can be part of the “buy-in” and in turn encourage their peers to also see it as worth their time. Student leaders also need to held to a higher standard in their lives outside of youth group.
At Lighthouse Student Ministry, the student leadership teams meet once a month. These meetings involve training and equipping, planning for future events, team bonding, and of course prayer. Angie added the key components of their monthly meetings are leadership training and development, Bible study, discipleship, and service. These are foundational because to be a biblical leader you need to be rooted in godly principles and a student needs to be discipled so they in turn can be investing in others.
Once a year they look into spiritual gifts and help students discover their gifts so they can be most effective in their service within the church body. The leadership team also plans events together so they can put all they have learned into practice.
What is the process for finding student leaders?
Eric asked the question on what the process looks like for finding and forming their student leadership teams. Angie explained they have an annual application with some key principles that students need to commit to as well as have their parents’ approval and support. The next step is a one-on-one interview with the student to be sure they are aware of their commitment as well as discuss what the student’s perceived gifts are. Fletcher added there are also boundaries when it comes to a student leadership team. He puts an emphasis on balance and rest, making sure students do not overcommit, overextend, and carry more than their share of the burden.
When looking to identify the student leaders in their youth ministry, Angie said they look for three qualities. They look for students that are 1. Faithful 2. Available 3. Teachable. Fletcher added that he likes to look for students who are already being leaders. He said, “Sometimes your best leaders are those you don’t think of as a ‘typical leader’. A leader might be the introverted, quiet kid who is willing to step up when there is a void. This describes myself as a student and how I became involved.”
What if your student leadership team isn’t working?
Eric ended with the question, “What do you do if you have a student leadership team but it does not seem to be working?” Fletcher said, “Ask plainly, is this accomplishing what it was set up to do?” He went on to say that usually adjustments need made not because the reason for doing it was wrong, but the way it’s being done may not match as well as you hope it did. In his own ministry, Fletcher said this is where the interview process entered in their search for student leaders. They were finding the paper applications were not matching the true hearts of the students.
In closing, Fletcher and Angie shared their final encouragement for churches who may be new to student leadership teams. Angie reminded to not compare, know that God has gifted those in your ministry and don’t be afraid to try something. She said, “It doesn’t have to be big, but just start with something small.” Fletcher echoed this and added, “Not everything will go right and there will be chaos. That’s ok.” He looked to the example of Jesus choosing to invest in a small group of 12 leaders. Jesus invested in select group of men who then God used to go and change the world.