Like most ministries out there, we have been struggling with cliques. Our “core” students, student leaders included, have not done a great job about being inclusive with our lesser known/new students. At our last Student Leadership meeting, we decided to address the situation head on. The response was incredible! I know that this is sometimes a hard issue to confront in a way that is impactful, so I thought I would share what we did that made our meeting so special!

We started with a short testimony from one of our adult volunteers. She said that she went to her youth group and felt totally alone even though she was in a room full of people and how she wanted so badly for someone just to come up to her and say hi. She asked if anyone could relate to her story and one by one, students in our student leadership program started telling their own stories of how they used to feel unwelcome at church. They told us how badly they wanted to be known and seen. It was such a powerful way to start the discussion because the problem became real and personal.

We followed that by telling our students that God wants to use them to make students feel welcomed and loved in the church. The idea was inspired by an interview I saw with Taylor Swift. In it, the interviewer asked if Taylor ever thought of the millions of girls that she is influencing everyday. Taylor responded that it would be irresponsible for her not to be aware of the influence that she has because she can make use of it for good. That is what we communicated to our student leaders. We wanted them to recognize that the Lord has given them influence. It is a gift from God and it would be irresponsible (or a waste) to not use what He has given them.

So we challenged them to make a difference. We told them we didn’t want them to focus on destroying the reputation of cliques at our church; we wanted them to focus on reaching out and showing the love of Christ to other people. Breaking down cliques can be an outcome of our ministry, but it isn’t the point. We told them that we want them to be on the look out before, during, and after service for students that seem disconnected. It could be one student by themselves, or a small group of students that don’t seem to know anyone else. They were challenged to never be with more than one other student leader as they make these outreach efforts. They were also challenged to go to another youth ministry alone and see what it feels like to be that new student.

I think it is so important to end it with their feedback. Some of our students who used to feel left out gave us some great insight on what we can be doing to make students feel welcomed and loved. Other students shared tips on how to built intentional relationships with new students. We closed out with prayer and hugs. It was awesome!

How have you approached students with this topic? What have you done to make it “work?”

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.

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.



We start each student leadership meeting with what we call, “celebrations”. Celebrations, a tradition inspired by our weekly staff meetings, is a time where our student leadership team reflects on the things that God has done in the weeks since we last met. Students will share things like a great conversation they had with a classmate, a powerful moment they had at the small group they lead, a story from an event they threw at their school, or even them getting into a college! This is one of my favorite parts of our meetings because we are able to slow down, take a breath, and acknowledge all of the great things the Lord has done through our team. Through this reflection, the Lord continues to work and helps us build a great community and teaches us some really great leadership lessons.

Community Building. Through celebrations, students are able to identify with each other; they see that they aren’t alone in the trenches and that they have a community that is there to support them with their projects, ministries, or events.  For example, Delaney shared that the Jr. High small group she leads finally opened up to each other. McKenna (who is also leading a Jr. High small group) revealed that she was having trouble getting her girls to be open and honest and asked for help. One by one, other students who lead small groups began to share advice and things that they had been learning. It was awesome to see a community instantly built through one student sharing about what God did in her small group.

Leadership Training. Celebrations are also an awesome way to teach applicable leadership lessons. I love this because we get the opportunity to teach on more than the book we are going through or the podcast that we listened to. For example, Lauren shared that the event she threw at her school was a huge success. She went on to admit that she was really scared at first and almost backed out completely. She shared that she knew God was calling her to lead the event but she felt like she wasn’t the right person for the job. But then she remembered the story of Moses and that God provided for him each step of the way, and that God was glorified through Moses’ weaknesses. Boom! A student just taught an incredible leadership lesson that anyone can identify with!

Our “celebrations” have really grown us as a team. I think a lot of the success comes from how organic it is. We get to learn and get closer together without a structured lesson or game. It just feels like a group of friends laughing together, supporting each other, and loving each other. A total win!

What activities is your ministry doing to build up your student leadership team?

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

A few weeks ago some of our student leaders created a ministry called “Encourage” who’s goal was very simply … to encourage other students. One of their first projects was leaving thank you notes on the office door of people who worked at the church. It is always nice to get thanked for serving and it was a great start. Their next project was MUCH bigger – putting sticky notes with a message of encouragement on the lockers of everyone in their high school. Some of the messages:

  • You can do it!
  • Thanks for being you
  • You matter
  • You are awesome
  • Smile!
  • Have a great day!
  • Try your hardest
  • You put the kind in mankind

And while the challenge was huge, they did it! And it sent ripples through the school and even the administration noticed the project and loved it. Not sure where the encourage ministry goes from here, but sure do love them thinking creatively and helping others be encouraged.

JG

PS: How cool is this followup picture (edited to remove IDs) a couple of weeks later?



Applications for our student leadership program are opening up again in a few weeks and it has me reflecting on what I look for in a student leader. Over the past week, I decided that I want our student leaders to be a leader third. Before they can be a student leader, they need to be a Christ follower first and a servant second:

1. Christ Follower
Student leaders are the ones that make things happen. But one of the first things I tell student leaders is, “this isn’t ASB.” I think it is important to make the point that they aren’t planning events and running ministries just for fun, they are doing it to help fulfill the purposes of the Church. A leader of a ministry isn’t like the leader of a club. A leader of a ministry is the spiritual leader of a group of people. In order to have a team that can be spiritual leaders of your ministry, you need to have a team of students that are pursuing the Lord. Before you say yes to putting a student in your leadership program, make sure you know what is happening in their spiritual life. Ask them questions about their relationship with the Lord, what their quiet times look like, where they are being challenged, etc. Dig deep. Don’t be afraid to talk to a spiritual leader in a student’s life or even a parent!

2. Servant
Is this student serving already? One of the mistakes that I have made is overlooking this on some applicants. In my mind, I thought, “I can help motivate them to start serving.” But that isn’t something you should have to say about a student leader. Student leaders are the ones that are already serving in your ministry. Sometimes this means saying no to popular students in your youth group. When I took a closer look at our “core” students, I found that most of them weren’t serving. Saying no to students like this might be tough, but it is a perfect opportunity to really challenge them and take them to the next level. Do be on the look out for students that are serving on ministry teams, showing up to serve projects, staying after events to clean-up, or just students that are servants in your ministry.

When I look for students that have leadership potential, I look for those two things. The more I develop our program, the harder I get on student leadership applicants. Don’t be afraid to say a few no’s. Letting in students that aren’t ready can make your program ineffective, or worse, harmful to your ministry. Saying no to some students is okay. It is healthy for your program and it is helpful to grow the student that needs to grow.

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.

As some of you know, this Wednesday was the annual event, See You at the Pole. SYATP (See You at the Pole) is a national day of prayer, where students come to school early to pray and worship together at their flagpole. Our ministry made a huge push for it this year and it turned out to be a huge win! I would promote SYATP to any youth group and here are a few reasons why:

-Unification. This event is geared towards uniting the Body of Christ at a school. One of the responsibilities of the student leader in charge of SYATP is to promote this event to all of the Christian clubs and organizations at the school. I think that when there are more than one Christian club at a school, there can be a rivalry that develops, but events like these, if done right, shatters this and helps them realize that they both have the same goal, to be a light and serve at their school. It is also fun to go and meet and build relationships with students and youth pastors from the area… you can never have too many friends!

-Long Term Results. While SYATP is a totally awesome program, it is only once a year. What we wanted to see happen was a fire sparked in the campus’ heart. We wanted this to inspire the Body at their school to love and serve their school in a way that they haven’t before. What was cool was seeing students posting their ideas on how to keep things like this going. There have already been talks of a campus prayer walk at one of our schools!

-Leadership Experience. SYATP is a completely student lead activity, which I LOVE. The cool thing is that the SYATP website (syatp.com) sets students up for success. It has a checklist of all of the things you need to do/think about when you are planning the event at your school. One of the cool things about this event is that it is a success/fail opportunity. One key element of growing leaders is giving them the freedom to fail. As their pastor, we are willing to help if they ask, but we can’t waste these unique opportunities to build up leaders. Failure doesn’t always mean the event is a complete disaster; failure can look like weak programming, bad promotion, poor team communication, etc. We just need to be there to help them learn from their mistakes so that the experience wasn’t in vain.

I am a huge believer in See You at the Pole and I hope that it is something that you at least look into for the schools in your area! Do you have a story from a See You at the Pole event?

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 year, our ministry has taken on a stronger focus on campus outreach. The main way that we are ministering to the local high schools is through our students, more specifically, our student leaders. Luckily, our student leaders already had a passion for ministering to their campus, all we needed to do was focus that passion and turn it into action.

In order to do that, we had a student leadership meeting that focused only on school outreach. We split them up by high school and gave them one sheet of paper. Each school had to work together as a team to answer five questions. But before we had them fill anything out, we gave them 20 minutes to have a quiet time and reflect on the things that Jesus has done in their lives or is doing in their lives. A huge aspect of focusing passion is to help them discover/remember why they are doing ministry. They need to fully put their faith in Christ and trust that He is still working in this world. They need to recognize that what they want to be doing at their school will be impossible to execute apart from God.

From there, we had them answer the five questions. Below are the questions we asked and the answers we got from a student at a near-by Catholic private school:

1. What are the unreached people groups at your school?
a. Kids who grew up in catholic homes, but their parents so not follow the religion, so they do not know what to believe
b. Kids who don’t have many friends
c. Transfer students

2. What are the needs of high schoolers?
a. Friends, to take away stress with family and school etc
b. Family, to always be there and provide
c. Acceptance

3. Do we believe that we are called to meet those needs? Why?
a. Yes because as Christians God has called us to share the good news, and by helping students fulfill their needs, we are shining the light of Christ.

4. What has been keeping you from meeting these needs in the past?
a. Don’t want to bring it up because it feels awkward
b. Feel like I will be asked a question I couldn’t answer
c. Most of the kids grew up non-practicing catholic and it is hard to talk to them about Christ because they do not think that there is anything more to their relationship with Christ.

5. MISSION STATEMENT
Our mission is to redefine what is means to be a follower of Christ and make the students at my school’s religion a relationship with Christ rather than a task

Note: We had our homeschooled students answer these questions about their personal lives, writing a mission statement for their life. We are SO stoked to see what our students do for their schools this year!

How is your ministry helping students minister to their schools?

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.

In my last post, I talked about the awesome student leadership book we have coming our way.  While we were in-between books, we have been putting together our own lessons that are based off of various pieces of scripture. Last Sunday, we did our lesson on Acts 17:24-25 and our students responded really well to it, so I thought I would share what we did!

24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man, he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. Acts 17:24-2

We started off the lesson by giving the students 20 minutes in prayer and meditation on the scripture.  Normally, we would introduce the topic to them and what we want them to take out of the verses we give them, but we wanted to see what they would come up with on their own.

Here is what we wanted to drive home:

GOD DOESN’T NEED US! In fact, God doesn’t need anything!  Sometimes, we have this idea in our head (whether consciously or unconsciously) that if we don’t do something it won’t get done.  We think that God’s plan is dependant on us making the right choices.  We think that if we don’t evangelize to that person or serve at that homeless shelter, then no one will do it.  That leads us to have a hero mentality that abandons humility and puts God in a box. But God can work outside of you.  He was working way before you were born, and he will continue to work after you die.  The great news is that God invites us to be used by Him to do His will! Incredible!

Here is a cool response we got from a student named Sierra (paraphrased):

Because God’s work isn’t confined to us, there is no room to boast about what you have done in the name of the Lord. We can never take pride in the fact that we lead someone to Christ or started a ministry because it was not us that did it!  It is by God ALONE that we are able to accomplish anything. Same goes for our gifts! We should be thankful for each talent and gift that we have because they are each God given, we have done nothing to deserve them!

What have you been teaching your student leaders?

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.