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3 Action Steps Toward Developing Student Leaders

I just returned from our third and final Student Leadership Conference, and I’m spending some time today debriefing all that we learned and what I’d like to see different for next year.

As I was doing this, I saw a tweet that my buddy Jonathan McKee wrote about some things I taught during our adult leaders’ meeting (prior to our opening session with student leaders). As always, Jonathan did a good job capturing the heart of what I shared.

Here’s the context: At our Student Leadership Conference, I prefer for the adult leaders to minimize their role and allow the students to “step-up.” To help them with this, I share three actions that adult leaders can do to help develop young leaders. Here are those three actions (as captured by Jonathan):

1. Your kids will often only absorb what you debrief. Don’t expect everything they just heard and experienced to sink in. Stimulate them to process it by debriefing with them. This doesn’t mean preach to them—chances are they already heard plenty of preaching at a conference. Debriefing is most successful when you ask questions. Ask them:

▪   What hit you the most in that talk?

▪   What is a way you can apply that this week, this month, this year?

▪   What did you learn from that exercise with the rest of the team?

▪   How can you apply that this week, this month, this year?

Use questions to help your kids process what they just learned, and help them think about how they can specifically take it home with them and live it out.

2. Affirm them constantly and specifically. Catch them doing something right:

▪   It was fun watching you work with the rest of the team on that project—you work really well with others.

▪   I loved your idea about how to make others feel welcome.

▪   You’re really good at …

Young people often hear more criticism than affirmation. Don’t neglect this unique opportunity to affirm them in their giftedness.

3. Get out of their way. Today’s parents and adult leaders often struggle with letting their kids solve problems on their own. We tend to swoop down and “save them.” In actuality, we’re hurting them.

One of the best ways to develop young leaders is to let them experience problem solving skills on their own. When we see them struggling … let them figure it out. It’s OK if they choke or fall. Those are often some of the greatest lessons learned. Then come alongside them afterward and debrief:

▪   What went wrong?

▪   What might have been a good way to fix it?

▪   What is a bad way to fix it?

▪   What did you learn from this situation?

Then affirm them in what you saw them do right, and if they didn’t figure out the answer on their own, offer a few humble suggestions and let them try it again. They’ll be more eager to listen to your counsel after they came up empty time and time again.

As you begin to move from summer thinking to fall planning, be thinking about these three questions:

1. “What is it that adults are doing in our ministry that teenagers could be doing?”

2. “Are we creating an environment where teens are sitting and being entertained, or are we creating environments where they can serve and lead?”

3. “When these teenagers graduate from our ministry, will they have had the opportunities to develop the skills to lead in a post-high school ministry setting? What opportunities are now available?”

If you’re not currently developing young leaders, I’d love to help you. In addition to our summer conferences, we’re putting together monthly resources for student leaders as part of our membership program.