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Student-Led Youth Ministry: How to Morph Into That Framework

student-led youth ministry

Does student-led youth ministry sound appealing? Then check out these tips and insights from a veteran youth pastor. Discover how he morphed his teen ministry into a “student-led, adult-mentored” culture. No adults lead small groups or, really, any ministry!

“These middle school kids have way too much energy for me. I think I may be in over my head.” And with that, my newest adult-volunteer recruit signaled the end of his oh-so-brief youth ministry trajectory. He’d just experienced his first teen event. Sugar-overloaded kids played toilet-paper hockey while student interns raced around on motorized toilets. And this was all before our worship service even started.

Just a few weeks before, this earnest new recruit enthusiastically pledged himself to our ministry. “I know this is where God wants me,” he said. But his first dip into the water was an icy plunge. Game over.

Of course, youth ministry requires a special breed of volunteer. Nothing is new about that. Over the years, I’ve talked to many youth pastors who’ve struggled, like me, to find adult leaders who are ready and willing to invest in teenagers’ lives. It’s simply hard to find genuinely committed, passionate people.

But about a year ago, the obvious solution to this persistent problem hit me like, well, a motorized toilet. I already had a room-full of potential leaders who were both passionate and eager to serve.

Sure, student leaders had always been involved in my ministry. But what if I found ways to raise the bar so that many, many more served in roles usually filled by adults? As I started down this path of student-led youth ministry, I quickly realized the “chair-sitters” seemed disconnected only because I’d given them few outlets to give. They wanted more than what I was offering them.

A potent mix of opportunity and encouragement blasted them out of those seats. Soon, I’d totally recast my ministry’s structure. I call it “Student-Led, Adult-Guided.” Here’s what I’ve learned.

4 Important Tips for Student-Led Youth Ministry

1. First, the pushback.

I was so excited to plunge into the possibilities that I forgot about the inevitable pushback from stakeholders in the church. Many reminded me that teenagers are often irresponsible and unreliable. They are, they told me, quick to offer suggestions but reluctant to follow through.

No argument from me. But I reminded them the same complaints applied to many of my past adult leaders. Given our spotty success at recruiting and equipping adults who would go all-in with our group, what did I have to lose?