Many of us in ministry know the typical way things go. Parents expect to drop their kids off at their respective ministry and go on their way. Going deeper, many churches take this approach. They view the ministers as the only ones in charge of the ministry. While many have tried to change this, which has created healthier churches, ministers are not always the best at delegating. Further, many youth ministers are guilty of this very issue. Even further, they do not always empower students to lead. Joy Bowen led a pre-conference workshop on this very issue – Mobilizing Kids and Students to Lead. She urged that we need to stop basing our success on the number of kids in our ministry. Instead, we need to focus on the number of kids serving.

To start with, we need to do a heart-check. We need to ask two questions. First, we need to ask if we trust our students to lead. If not, we need to address this. Either this is an issue with us or the students. Secondly, we need to ask ourselves if we are trustworthy. Students need to know we can equip them for the role. We give them a first impression of what serving in the body of Christ is all about. That first impression needs to be great. We need to also protect them from over-committing themselves to too much responsibility. We also need to realize that empowering students to serve is not a way to fill in for missing adult leaders. The adults need to be present first, and they will help the students lead.

So, how does one equip students to lead? Part of our role is to align them with passion and purpose. Help them discover their gifts, talents, and passions. A resource Joy suggested was “Strength Finders.” We need to also create clear expectations and provide accountability. Her church decided on a four-year age differential between the leaders and kids in the ministry. The process she suggested for training follows the popular mentoring approach: I do while you watch, I do while you help, you do while I help, and you do while I watch. The adults will provide wisdom for the student leaders as they do ministry together. All the while, be sure to celebrate their wins. It is important to critique, but make sure to give them encouragement. Joy suggested five positive comments for every one negative.

Some other resources she suggested were the book “Drive” by Dan Pink (on topic of motivation) and the “Journey to Awareness Journal,” which opens students’ eyes to the world’s poverty struggle.

Joy closed with this quote: “Our goal is to design environments where they not only sense God, but they experience what God wants to do through them.”

Joy Bowen has a B.A. in Psychology from U.C. Santa Barbara.  Before joining reThink, Joy was a part of the children’s ministry staffs at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship and Irving Bible Church.  She has served in children’s ministry in a wide variety of volunteer and staff roles since 2000 and has a passion for children’s worship. Joy currently serves as a 252 Basics specialist for reThink partner churches and resides in Texas with her husband and two boys.

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