4 Keys to Leading the High School Students Who Serve in Your Children's Ministry

Students can be amazing children's ministry leaders.  I believe they can make an even bigger impact in the lives of kids than adults can.

Think about it.  Who do kids look up to?  Who do they want to be like?  Students.  This is one reason why you'll find so many students in the most popular kid's TV shows and movies.  Students are kid-magnets!

You probably have some students serving in your children's ministry.  If not, you are missing a great opportunity.  In this article, are some tips that can help you involve students in your children's ministry.

Once you have students enlisted to serve in your ministry, how do you lead them effectively?  Recently, two of our student ministry pastors, Kevin Wilson (@kevinwilson23) and Ryan McDermott (@ryanmcdermott), shared 4 keys to leading students who serve in children's ministry.  It was very insightful and helpful, so I want to share it with you.

One of our of our main goals as a Student Ministry is to help students connect to the life of the church.  We¹re not interested in having a bunch of kids who find their identity in a Student Ministry.  We want them connected to the larger body of Christ.  We want them to know their pastor and to value church life, so that when they turn 18 and graduate high school, they don¹t walk away from the faith.

In this room, we all know that one of the greatest ways for anyone, including students, to get connected into the house is to start serving.  If we are all doing our jobs well, then there is a good chance that you will have students serving on your teams.  And this isn’t just for the health of our students; its also for the health and success of your ministry.

I read a quote this week that said, “If you're not stacking your team with young leaders, you’re preparing yourself for future oblivion.”  Our students are the church of today, but they are also our succession plan.  And if we lead them well, our ceilings can become their platform.

They are full of energy, they are fast learners (especially in the area of technology), they understand trends & they have a LOT to contribute to your team.  But you have to make the effort to lead them well.  Now I know from trying to recruit volunteers for Wednesday Nights (which you are welcome to join us for anytime by the way) that working with and leading students can seem intimidating.  So we want to give you a few practical tips that we believe will help you as you equip students to do the work of the ministry.

1) TREAT THEM LIKE PEOPLE.  Don¹t make the mistake of treating them like students, treat them like people.  Too many times we make the mistake of putting students into a separate category. What that actually causes is isolation, and it works against us.  The best thing that we can do for our volunteers who are students is to integrate them with all of the other generations represented on our serve teams.  The best thing for them isn¹t always to serve along-side someone their own age.

In fact, often the best thing for them is to serve along-side someone like a godly 65-year-old who pursues Jesus and loves people.  The goal is not to have student greeters.  The goal is to have greeters that happen to be students.  We want to integrate them into our teams, treat them like people, teach them responsibility, and help them forge relationships with people who have run more of the race then they have.

If you treat them like kids, you will lose them.  How do you feel when someone talks to you like a kid?  How do you feel when someone treats you as an equal, or like you are the most important person in the room?  Treat them like you would anyone else on your team.  Love them.  Be honest.  Be real.

2) GET ON THEIR TURF.  All of the things that we give you are going to apply to anyone that you lead, but the way it practically plays out for students might be a little different.  This is true no matter the age of person you are trying to connect with, but you do need to understand their turf looks a lot different than most of ours.  If you are not connecting with them on social media, there is a good chance you are not connecting with them at all.

Social media has complexly changed the way that people relate and connect, especially in younger generations.  You might think that is a good thing, you might think that¹s a bad thing, but it doesn’t matter because it is a true thing.  We can’t deny it.  Don’t believe me?  All you have to do is open the dictionary.  Social media has literally changed the Webster¹s dictionary definition of the word friend! It used to be a noun... a person attached to another person by feelings or affection.  It is now also a verb... to add a person to a list of ones contacts on a social network.

Here is why it matters when it comes to leading students.  If you have to ask them what they did this weekend, it tells them you are not paying attention.  Everyone else in their lives knows what they did this weekend.  They all saw it on Instagram.  They liked it, they commented on it, they re-posted it.  When you ask a question like "What did you do this weekend?”  You are the only one asking it.  Does that mean you don¹t care about them?  Absolutely not.  Does that mean that you are irrelevant?  Absolutely not.  Some of the most godly influences in their lives will never have a social media account.  Love is the most important thing when it comes to people.

BUT if you want to find a tangible way to show them that you care, get on their turf.  Follow them. All you have to do is check their Instagram to see what they did this weekend and you know what to ask them about it.  It takes you 30 seconds to see what kind of week they.  30 seconds to know if they won their football game on Friday night.  30 seconds to know if their boyfriend broke up with them.  All of that information helps you lead them better.  Take advantage of it.

Practical tips:  Email is a completely useless way of communicating to students.  21 and under is the most rapidly declining age group on Facebook.  Text message is your best option for directly contacting students.  They always have their phone in their hand.

3) DON¹T UNDERESTIMATE THEM.  This generation is written off... a lot!  And while there are good reasons that most teenagers are written off by most people, the church should never be a place where this happens.  One of the things that I have learned over the years is that students always seem to do more than what is expected of them, especially when called and given great opportunities.  Belle Glade is the perfect example of this.

This idea is confirmed for me every few years when I watch the Olympics.  You have kids that are 14, 15, 16 years old competing on a global scale, and in a lot of cases, winning!  Don¹t tell me they can¹t do it.  They just need someone to believe in them.  To push them to be better than they are.  Set the bar high and get the right coaches in your life.

We should always focus on CALLING THEM UP instead of CALLING THEM OUT.  Call them up to an opportunity.  Call them up to the appropriate level of leadership.  Call them up to use gifts that they may not even know that they have.  This doesn’t mean you won¹t have to call them out.  If you’ve ever led people before, you know that on occasion you have to have some really hard conversations in love.  The same is true here.

But it is the relational equity that you have built by believing in them and getting on their turf, that will earn you the right to speak those things into their lives.  I may have never discovered my gift or passion for communicating God's Word if someone didn't give me the opportunity at 17.

You can¹t read Scripture and tell me that God doesn’t use young people to do incredible things.  Most, if not all of the scriptural examples we have of God using young people (and there are a lot) happened long before they were ever “ready.”  We need to believe in our students because maybe no one else does.  As we lead the students on our teams, just make sure that you don¹t underestimate them because there is a really good chance that they will surprise you.

4) SHOW THEM THE BIG PICTURE.  This generation of teens is a very cause driven generation.  They are always looking for a cause to fight for.  Whether it’s causing awareness for human trafficking or going green to save the planet, this generation is all about causes.

So we need to paint a great picture of why building the church is the greatest cause they can give their life to.  And they constantly need to see how what they are doing in your ministry is contributing to the big picture.  They need to see how their task, responsibility, etc is contributing to change and they will need to be reminded of it regularly! (Note: this is true for everyone but especially true of students).

A student isn’t going to do something just because you're an adult and you tell them to do something. That’s how it use to be, but it’s not the world we live in any more.  Students will challenge assumptions and challenge the status quo.  They need to know WHY the assignment they are given is worth their time, they need to know that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, and they need to know that what they are doing will have an impact on people.

They need to know why it’s important to pass out hi-lite sheets, and why it’s important to make sure every kid gets checked in properly, and why it’s important to have someone greeting at every door on campus and why they are digging a massive garden by hand in Belle Glade!

If you don’t connect them to the big picture and remind them of how they are contributing to it, you will lose them.  They won’t serve just for the sake of serving.  They may do it for a week, but it won’t last long.  You have to connect them to the big picture.

  The students you are leading will let you down at some point.  They will goof off or lose of focus (call them up instead of calling them out).  They will forget why what they are doing is important (remind them and connect them to the big picture).

They will no show when you are counting on them (Note: it might not be their fault.  They are often at the mercy of their parents).  And they will will forget that everything is not about them (extend grace to them).  I tell our team all of the time that Wednesday nights (or times they serve) are the best nights of their week just because they don't have to be at home.