I believe that the most effective student leadership programs (and ministries in general) are the ones that empower their students. And I mean, actually empower them. In youth ministry, empowerment is rooted in the belief that students can actually make a difference in their church, community, school, and even the world!

If we were to ask ourselves if we believe in students, believe that that they could change the world, most of us would say yes. However, if some of us were to really think about it, that might not be fully true. I think we might sometimes say yes out of habit or because we feel like we are supposed to, but the real answer lies in the actions of our ministry. We can say we believe in our students all we want, but if our ministry isn’t empowering students, than we might need to reevaluate our answer. For some, their ministry used to be powered by a belief in students but, somewhere along the way, empowerment got lost in the shuffle. For others, empowerment might not have ever been a main priority in their ministry. But if we want to see students serving their church and community, we need to make it a priority.

One of the first steps in getting a student to serve is getting them to believe in themselves, and we can’t expect students to do that if we don’t believe in them first. We need to believe that God has called and equipped the ENTIRE church to serve. Each of us has been gifted for ministry, even our students. Our student leadership programs, and our ministries as a whole, needs to communicate this belief. Where are we taking a chance on students? While it is awesome to let students pass out pens and bulletins at the beginning of service, we need to be providing significant opportunities. Sometimes this means letting go of a certain aspect of your ministry and allowing a student to own it. If you have a student that wants to be a pastor and has the gift of communication, let them speak at a weekend service. If you have a student that has a heart for the elderly and the gift of leadership, let them start and lead a elderly care ministry. At the end of the day, God believes in our students and our ministry needs to reflect that.

Does your ministry communicate to students your belief in them? Does it empower them?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

This week I’ve talked to a couple youth workers who had come down with the same symptoms of a serious disease that infects all of us from time to time: they stopped believing in their church. We’ve all been there (if you haven’t welcome to your first few months in youth ministry – I promise you it is just ahead). So what is your response?

Time for a change in attitude
Quite often when you stop believing in your church or leadership it is time for prayer, not departure. Seasons of discord and discontent are common in ministry – your first response to a frustration should be prayer and consideration to the fact you may just be out of line. Ask God to show you were you need to change, rather than quickly dismiss your inadequacies, arrogance or pride. A just a little heads up – usually you don’t see yourself very well and someone will have to help you with your attitude adjustment. It won’t feel very good.

Time for a change in your job description
Most frustrations can be addressed by a simple change in a job description. Did your youth ministry position recently morph into an associate pastor type of role? Does your job look WAY different than what was pitched to you when you were hired? If you’re feeling it right now, write up some adjustments to your description (or help yourself by writing an official job description if your church never gave you one) that is fulfilling of your responsibilities and calling.

Time for a change in your leader
It’s possible that the leadership you report to needs to change. It will be very difficult to truly discern this – they need to sense God’s Spirit leading them and hear the words of wisdom in their Christian community. Pray that God will open their eyes to poor leadership decisions and pray that you may have a role in helping shape the vision which you are about to abandon because you’re giving up hope.

Time for a change in where you serve
If it isn’t an attitude problem on your part. If your job cannot be edited and adjusted to be a better fit. If your leader is unwilling or unable to change, you might need to begin praying about what God has next for you. When you stop believing in a church or a leader I believe you are quite possibly in the early stages of transition. I put this option last for a reason – this is usually what I flirt with first when I’m losing the vision for the church. Fight through the other steps first, and if/when you get here, pray for clarity and wisdom.

To youth workers who are hurting … I’ve walked that road in the past, and still dabble in it now from time to time. Don’t stop believing … and when you do check your heart, your role, your leader and if God wants to make a change.

JG