It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers… (Ephesians 4:11)
A quick Google search shows that student-led youth ministry is a topic that can be found across many churches, denominations and countries. There is no question as to its validity and potential; many professional youth leaders attribute their ministry to opportunities they once had to lead as students. My personal story goes along with this idea as I found myself organizing a trip to the National Youth Gathering as a high school sophomore with only the help of our Seminary Field Worker.
In my ministry as a DCE I have worked to provide leadership opportunities for students. Many youth gravitate toward the role of being “in charge” or making the decisions. They get excited about a program or activity and talk their friends into attending or helping with the event. It is a joy to watch these students develop skills and get excited about leading.
A couple of years ago, there were a few high school students in our congregation’s program who had a strong passion for leading worship. I worked with our Pastor to find a worship venue for them on Sunday nights, once a quarter. The students planned the message, songs, dramas, and order of worship. They thrived with this task and were passionate about serving God and others through worship. Families and people of all ages came to worship on those Sunday Nights. The experience provided a great example of youth using the talents God had given them to lead others and lead events. There is no question that these youth were encouraged by the Spirit to take on this task and carry it forward; so why the question in the title, “Can all youth be leaders?”
Here is my struggle. If we push all students to be leaders, who will follow? If we constantly work to move youth ministry toward a complete student-led ministry, how does someone who isn’t a leader fit into the model? Can someone who doesn’t feel like they have the gift of leadership still be affirmed in their gifts as part of a Youth-led Ministry?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a proponent for involving youth in leadership and ministry planning. Still, I would like to think that we haven’t forgotten about the quiet student, who is faithful in his or her worship and study and desires to be involved, but does not want to take an “upfront” role.
Consider an idea from Leonard Sweet’s Aqua Church, the Double Ring Idea of Our Postmodern Culture. (If you want you can watch a brief video that explains the double ring at http://www.leonardsweet.com/sweetened/video/doublering.ram)
The idea of the double ring is that two opposite truths ring true at the same time. An example would be that people toss out more trash now than ever before, but at the same time people recycle more today than ever in history. Sweet gives another example of how the average square footage of houses grows bigger every year, while the average size of the families is getting smaller. I always refer to these things as a “both…and.”
We must embrace the “both…and” opportunities in ministry. This includes our approach to student-led ministry. We cannot only embrace youth who want to be leaders. We only catch one “ring” if we do that. We must embrace “both” the leaders “and” those who have gifts in other areas. It is the “both…and” aspect of ministry.
Youth workers need to remain sensitive to the fact that not all were created to fit one, single role. God calls each one of us to play a different role than the person next to us. Youth workers need to take active roles in helping youth discover their gifts so that they can use them to serve God and others.
One of the greatest joys we found in the youth led worship we experienced was that it included other opportunities for youth to be involved beyond being “upfront”. Youth worked on the audio/visual aspects of the service. Youth helped write the dramas. Other youth worked as ushers and even designed the bulletins.
The church cannot risk the possibility of discounting many other gifts that God has given our youth by affirming only the obvious, upfront gifts of leadership. Embrace the “both…ands” in God’s ministry where you work.