Several months ago, we had the privilege of writing about the newly formed youth ministry praise team, which has allowed many students the opportunity to experience a particular form of student leadership. That effort, however, was only the beginning step towards promoting and encouraging a new wave of student leadership within the ministry. As we’ve learned from experience, it’s important to be developing the next group of leaders BEFORE the current ones graduate. With that in mind, we have made it a priority to give some of our younger students opportunities to practice significant leadership roles right now, so that as they age and mature, they will grow into their potential.
If we fail to engage students in leadership opportunities when they enter the youth group as Middle Schoolers, we have no one to blame but ourselves if they get to be upperclassmen and feel completely unprepared when we ask them to “step up and set the example.” There’s no reason at all for gap years when it comes to serving in the church. This training and equipping process can begin much earlier and I deeply appreciate the way the Children’s Ministry works to give elementary students opportunities to practice leadership skills.
Increasingly, we have been using younger students to take lead, not only during worship, but in other aspects of our meeting time, as well. We’ve recently seen ninth graders Patrick Russell and Hannah Window – following the example set by senior Briggs Braswell – lead our praise team on Wednesdays, and several of the Middle School singers rotate through song-leading duties on Sunday mornings when our group is split. We are increasingly using students to lead games during both combined and separated gatherings. High School students have led Bible studies with their peers, and of course, February’s Martin Boyd Service provided an opportunity for many of our young men to gain experience leading an entire worship service.
Perhaps most significant to me, though, is what was recently asked of two of our 8th graders, Matt Stone and Andrew Reynolds. On two recent Sundays, rather than ask one of our more-than-capable adult volunteers to conduct our Middle School class, we decided to have students lead all aspects of the large-group gathering: game, worship, and teaching. It can be an intimidating thing to present a spiritual lesson in front of one’s peers, but both Matt and Andrew rose to the occasion and did wonderful jobs presenting their messages. They were thoughtful, well-prepared, and intent on delivering a quality speech. All the adults in the room were so proud, and it was encouraging to witness the cheers from their friends when they completed their lessons.
While it can be tempting to assume young people aren’t ready to take on some of the more demanding leadership roles within our church, the fact is, our kids are more capable than we often give them credit for, and more than that, the only way to improve is by doing. May we all come to an understanding that every investment we make in the spiritual leadership capabilities of our young people serves to bless the church today and far beyond. Today we invest in maturity for tomorrow.