“I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not.” – Jim Elliot
Like the priests who took the first steps to lead Israel into the icy waters of the Jordan River (Joshua 3), young leaders today need to be apprenticed toward brave new leadership. When you take into account the huge youth population bulges in many nations coupled with geopolitical instability likely for decades to come, vanguard student ministry organizations and churches committed to introducing more kids to Jesus must start thinking more about strategic sustainability. Strategic sustainability implies health and growth even in the midst of unpredictability. To achieve this you must have a principle-driven leadership training framework.
At the center of any strategy to influence wide swaths of young people of any nation is to identify, train, and empower younger leaders. In this post I’m not writing to just any leader, I’m addressing those young leaders, organizations, and churches out there who dream about changing the next generation with the Gospel. As I look at young leaders in the Bible who stand out as models for us to follow today, Daniel rises to the top.
LEADERSHIP TRAINING MUST ADAPT, RE-EDUCATE, AND RE-TRAIN
Daniel provides a clear pathway for leaders to expand their influence more broadly. We can’t rely on cultural norms to provide an incubator for basic leadership understanding anymore. Churches and mission organizations must pioneer the way and in many ways re-educate and re-train their younger leaders who want to serve. We can’t make assumptions anymore. We must have much more than mere skills training. Instead, leadership training must involve a combination of education+training+apprenticeship. That will be the foundation of strategic sustainability for student ministry organizations in a world of fracturing cultural norms.
Daniel had four remarkable qualities that broadened his leadership: COMPREHENSIVE KNOWLEDGE, CHARACTER, COMPETENCE, and an ability to CONNECT people to God by using his spiritual gifts. These four qualities are the mark of catalytic leaders. Now lets look at each of them in context…
If you are a college student, student ministry leader, or parent of a college student I want you to read this post. College is a window of opportunity. With just a bit of intentionality your college ministry experience could be the difference between a bowl of oatmeal and a Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipping cream. Our college campuses are of course intensely secular places, but there’s really nothing new about that. Followers of Jesus have always been on the outside, a little strange in comparison to the dominant culture. Yet one thing that does seem different today on college campuses is the scale of erosion in the soil of Christian community.
The concern is that without context, it is hard for a young believer to grow and progress in Christ. Without an adequate alternative culture of Jesus-loving friends around you, there is a good chance you will be impacted more by the dominant culture around you, rather than you impacting it. Context to live out our faith is absolutely crucial.
Adolescents have to work really hard in their education to build a foundation of knowledge, character, and experience. Parents have the hindsight to understand just how important a Middle School and High School education is, so we can serve the pre-teens and teenagers in our lives with a compelling vision for the “why” behind all of the hard work.
The more I work with adolescents and raise a few of my own, I realize that adolescents and adults are not that different from one another. In particular, we both desperately need to be reminded of the “why” behind what we do. We can all get bored, distracted, or even depressed for lack of vision (Proverbs 29:18). But when we are inspired by vision, we tend to get back that enthusiasm God created us to have and we press forward with hope and purpose for our future. Here’s how…
Parents (and grandparents) are an absolutely vital part of your student ministry. This is true of middle school, high school, and in some ways even college ministry. Regardless of their faith, whether Believers or non-believers, parents of teenagers are still the primary gatekeepers for their kid’s involvement in your student ministry. And even parents of college students, who may not really be a “gatekeeper” any longer, can still be a catalytic advocate for your ministry.
In the grand scheme of things, your relationships with parents may be just as important as your relationship with students. Parents enhance your student ministry by giving you ideas, feedback, resources, and prayer. Your whole ministry will benefit from parents who are appropriately involved as advocates, especially among other parents.
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. -Matthew 9:37-38
Some people are called to full time vocational ministry. If you have an insatiable draw toward missions or ministry that you just can’t shake, then maybe God is calling you. There will always be a need for cross-cultural missions until Jesus comes back. Missions is temporary. When Christ returns, there will be no more missions, that window will be closed. Yet right now it is wide open. There is a famine for the Word of God on every continent, and the Holy Spirit is raising up men, women, and young people from just about every nation to lay their lives down for Jesus to advance the Good News. And some of those whom he calls will be sent out as full time workers for his Kingdom.
Confucius is one of China’s most revered sages. Although he lived and taught his disciples somewhere around 551-479 B.C., Confucianism is still the most popular philosophy in China today. The context of Confucius’ rise in popularity is interesting. Times were chaotic and quite violent in China at the time of his professional life. There were great divides between classes and clans and this was disturbing to Confucius because it weakened society and created distrust and poverty. He grew up with minimal personal family connection so this seemed to create a vacuum in his own heart for connectedness and the benefits of a tight-knit family. Understanding his background helps us understand where the deep roots of his philosophy came from.
Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it. – Winston Churchill
Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us therefore study the incidents in this as philosophy to learn wisdom from and none of them as wrongs to be avenged. – Abraham Lincoln
In my recent post, 12 Steps to Making You a Better Speaker or Teacher, I provide a simple pathway for how to develop a student ministry talk that will connect with your audience and communicate the Gospel in a language that they can understand. When you speak to a group of college, high school, or middle school students, you want to get them excited about Jesus and curious about how the Bible will radically impact their life. You want them to see how they can turn the world upside down by following Jesus. This is our goal, but it also takes some work to grow in your speaking skills.
GREAT TEAMS KNOW HOW TO ASSIMILATE NEW TEAM MEMBERS
After reading, would you be willing to share this and offer a comment below? I respond to each comment.
Each semester it is common for a student ministry team to add a new leader or two. It is rare for teams to remain static for too long and it is actually a sign of health in your recruitment and training strategy if you are regularly adding new leaders on your youth ministry or college ministry team. God is constantly at work raising up new laborers for his harvest field so it is really important to have a plan for assimilating new leaders on your team:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ – Matthew 9:36-38).
All of us have been “new” to a team at some point so it should be easy for us to relate. But in reality it takes discipline to keep reminding yourself how others might be feeling like an outsider. It is helpful to step back and put yourself in a new team members shoes. This greatly improves your ability to help them assimilate to your team.