Leadership qualities like being humble, hopeful and vocal leave a lasting impact. Before you read any further, take one minute and think about 3-5 memories from your life that deeply shaped you to be who you are today. What were they? When did they happen?
This probably won’t surprise you, but recent adolescent research affirms:
Nearly everyone recalls adolescence more powerfully than any other stage of life (Age of Opportunity by Laurence Steinberg).
Why is that true about adolescence (ages 13-25 or so)? One of the reasons people have so many shaping memories from adolescence is that the brain’s last period of heightened malleability is during adolescence (Steinberg, 10). Because this is the last window of opportunity for the brain to be so radically shaped, we tend to remember things that we experienced from that stage of life. Here’s how you can make sure to leave a lasting impact in the lives of the students you are investing in…
LEADERSHIP QUALITIES THAT LEAVE A LASTING IMPACT ON STUDENTS
This is why student ministry can leave such a lasting impact. Since adolescence is such a profound window of opportunity it is vital to reach them through leaders who have the character and skill to point them toward Jesus. As I interact with catalytic student ministry leaders around from over 50 countries, I’ve noticed three qualities that make them so influential in the countries where they live. They are humble, hopeful, and vocal. And these are qualities that you too can nurture to leave a lasting impact in the lives of adolescents around you.
In my reading in the Gospel of John recently, I found three biblical passages that highlight these qualities really well. John the Baptist made a statement that still makes the earth tremble when we take what he said at face value and say the same prayer for ourselves:
He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30).
Have you prayed that prayer for yourself lately? The one quality that I believe is an indicator of longevity and lasting impact in student ministry is a genuinely humble heart. Adolescence is a trying time for just about everyone going through it. And one of the things that can make adolescence more miserable than it is intended to be is if pride is allowed to grow wild. Pride must be pruned to experience the abundant life Jesus talked about. And we learn this by seeing it modeled consistently by others. Humility keeps us pruned so that the spiritual fruit of our lives blesses others around us.
Contentment comes from humility. Adolescents are deeply impacted by spending time with adults who are humble and content. This is because adolescents are trying to navigate who they are going to be in the midst of being tossed around in the stormy ups-and-downs of raging desires. A humble, content adult in their lives is like having a rudder to stay on course.
Leaders inspire hope in others by constantly stepping out in faith to bring the Gospel to the next generation. So many leaders are derailed or taken out of the game by developing a works-based mentality. The cross is emptied of its power in our life if we begin to believe that it is up to us to change a person or transform a school, etc. I see way too many leaders with great potential becoming a flash in the pan because they can’t handle the burdens of leadership. The way to avoid this and leave a lasting legacy through longevity in ministry is to understand a simple but radically profound little truth:
The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)
Jesus did all of the work. And we enjoy all of the benefits. Leadership is not about the all-encompassing “DO”. Rather, in the words of the Chinese martyr Watchman Nee, leadership is about the big “DONE.” Longevity and having a lasting impact is deeply rooted in whether you believe in what Jesus has DONE rather than what you should do.
By immersing ourselves in the Gospel and the impact of the cross in your life, you will become a leader who authentically believes that obstacles are to be overcome as a means to get glory for God. And ironically you’ll end up “doing” a lot, but you won’t be doing it for recognition, significance, or influence (which are all empty motivations that cause people to burn out).
Leaders that leave a lasting impact have not done so by remaining silent. We live in a time in history where I see way too many leaders with incredible potential being taken out by fear. Why should we care what other people think of us if we are simply and lovingly telling people the truth. If you are controlled by fear then you are not ever going to enjoy the freedom and deep satisfaction of leading people. Fear keeps us quiet. Jesus gave us a great example of how to be appropriately vocal with the Good News.
Leaders impact adolescents by proclaiming the Good News from the well of their own daily experience of Jesus. This was Jesus’ pattern:
Even as he spoke, many believed in him. (John 8:30).
Adolescents are watching everything and because their brains are in their last window of opportunity to experience radical shaping or re-shaping, it is vital that loving adults in their lives provide a model of confidence in the Gospel to help them with their unbelief. It is well documented that most people who make a decision to come to Christ do so before about the age of 18. This is why we need youth leaders who are in relationships for the long haul and don’t burn out.
What are some of the reasons why are you drawn to the idea of longevity and having a lasting impact in the lives of students?
Do you have memories from adolescence that remind you of the vital need for student ministry? How has God used those memories to instill in you a commitment to longevity and leaving a lasting impact in other students?
Which of these three leadership qualities is an area of growth for you?
Do you have any words of advice to share with others?