Opportunity 3 // This Generation is Capable of Leading

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When it comes to leaders we often have a particular image in our head; well-spoken, well-put-together… of a certain age. So when you look down the meeting table at retainer-wearing-fidget-spinning kid who just got dropped off by his mom, our brains don’t always leap to ‘leadership material’.

In church we can be really good at making students ‘helpers’. Helpers do the low investment jobs; the ‘anyone can do it’ and the ‘just need another body’ jobs.

But helpers come and go.

And in this climate of ‘going’, the Church needs to invest, engage and empower young leaders to help inspire them to stick around.

Imaginative Hope says this generation is capable of leading, and eager to do so.

Spoiler alert: so does Jesus.

So how do we do it? Glad you asked! Here are a few thoughts:


To be clear we don’t mean that every youth with leadership potential should have physical keys to everything (we keep important Halloween candy in our office). Key holders are people who hold significant responsibility and contribute meaningfully to your organization.

Do you remember what it was like to get your first house key? It’s a pretty big deal.

I bet you had an epic keyring.

Being given a key means that you share equally in the responsibility and the privilege of the thing you can now unlock. Our ‘thing’ is the message of Jesus.

In our context, making our students key holders means:

1.     We give them the big picture

In other words, they are ‘in on’ the overall mission/vision of our group.

Mission/vision doesn’t have to be complex, in fact the simpler it is the easier it is to communicate. Rule of thumb: if they can’t chant it mockingly in your face as you bring it up again at a meeting, it’s not simple enough.

In our case, we have three core values that everything ties back to. We have an acronym but we keep it to ourselves because, you know, acronyms are so 1990. Giving students the big picture indicates that you see them as meaningful contributors to your group. One of our new intern jobs is taking attendance. When we choose our attendance-takers we don’t just give them supplies, but explain the importance of noticing when someone hasn’t been around (Core Value 2: everyone has value). Suddenly attendance taking isn’t a helping job, it is part of our larger purpose.   We go over this stuff, even with our grade 7 interns. Give them the big picture. When they can see exactly what they are part of, maybe they will see why it’s worth their investment.

2.     Good things come to those who don’t wait (for people to be ready).  

Whether we admit it or not, there is a perceived correlation between importance and age when it comes to jobs in our churches. Planning teaching times? Working as a mentor? Call in the adults. Handing out pencils? Bring on the interns!

We ask questions like:

Are they far enough along in their faith journey? Do they have wisdom? Is their faith deep enough?

No matter how many times we are reminded, we seem to forget that Jesus chose to hand over the future of His church to people who were societal outcasts; who didn’t even believe He was the Son of God until after his death and resurrection; who never would have met our standards for leadership.

I don’t know about you, but if our standard is higher than Jesus’, we may have to do some reconsidering.

Now. Of course we are required to protect the people we care for. It is a fine line that we walk.

But what if instead of looking at our students and asking ‘what jobs have minimal risk attached to them’ we started asking: ‘what part of our mandate is so crucially important that we can’t afford NOT to have all of our people in on it’?

So start training those junior highs to reach behind them and start checking in on that grade 3 kid. Let those high schoolers be responsible for your teaching that night. Understand that there is no gold standard when it comes to sharing the love of Jesus.  

When we place our trust in students, there will be failing all over the place. Remember that house key you were so thrilled to get? You probably left it on the school bus at some point, didn’t you? How handy, then, that we are all key holders for a boss who specializes in redemption. Besides, let your mind wander (it won’t take long) to the last time you spoke inappropriately, were too harsh, didn’t get something done on time, put in less effort than you should have.

We just happen to be older.

It’s a little scary, this passing of the baton. But the truth is, we are in an all-hands-on-deck situation. Let us not be the people who say ‘no thank you’ to the help.

So if you have students in your churches right now: 

  • Be intentional with training and mentoring. Invest in their learning. Send them articles to read.
  • Ask them what they are excited about. Ask them what ideas they have that they haven’t shared. Ask what would make them invite a friend. Ask what is boring, or weird. Help implement their ideas.
  • Let them brainstorm with other people their age. Pay for their outing.
  • Let them fail and take them out for hot chocolate to talk about it.
  • Expect a lot from them. Push them to always ask ‘how can this be done better’? Teach about the importance of taking responsibility seriously.
  • Champion them and credit them publicly when they have played a part.
  • Give them a title. Give them a shelf in the church office. Give them a leader’s time to give their input.
  • Talk often about your recent flops and what you did when your plans didn’t work.
  • Let them see you doing menial tasks so they understand that all jobs contribute to the mission.

We don’t need to keep using stories from the Bible to remind us that young people are capable of leading. We have a God who uses words like ‘all’ and ‘everyone’... and He means it.