There is power in the keys. Churches that I have served or been a part of have tended to vacillate in one direction or the other either toward a restrictive control over who is able to have access to the church facilities through the issuing of keys or on the other end toward a free range sharing of keys almost to the point that every member in good standing for more than 5-10 years seemingly having a set of keys. The histories of individual congregations seem filled with stories related to the sharing of keys and pulling them back due to some perceived abuse of access.

As the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) conceived of Keychain Leadership, they had in mind the sharing of authority that comes with a particular kind of weight. You might call this a load bearing type of authority. It is one thing to ask young people to take an active role in the life of the congregation. It is all together another matter to make sure that what you invite young people to participate in within the life of the congregation respects their capacities to serve and gives them enough of a buy in to the larger purpose of the ministry of the church to make the responsibilities shared substantive.

As a way of illustrating this point think about asking young people in your congregation to set up for a church potluck. Perhaps we might think of there being three particular ways of engaging young people in setting up for the potluck. In one approach, the women of the congregation who have been setting up for these potlucks for years and know just how they are to be done, ask the DCE or other youth leader to recruit a few youth to help out. Based on their relationship with the DCE, a group of youth are recruited and arrive ready to serve. They are given detailed instructions. The women of the church explain where tables are to go and how to label the tables so that people know where the different dishes are to be placed. The wisdom and experience of these ladies’ shines through as the youth are given very specific instructions that ensure that the potluck set up and clean-up is handled just right.

In the second approach, someone suggests (possibly the DCE or a parent) that the youth might be responsible enough to handle the set up themselves. After all they have attended many potlucks and should know where things go by now. The youth are recruited by the DCE or other youth leader, who lets the youth into the hall. The youth are then given time to set up before the ladies of the congregation arrive. Tables are arranged and the youth are feeling good, when the first of the potluck ladies arrives. Unfortunately, from the perspective of these women, the youth have not been paying enough attention and there are tables that need to be re-arranged in order to best accommodate the needs of the potluck attendees. A few tables are quickly re-arranged and the potluck is ready to begin just in time.

The third approach recognizes the need for young people to take ownership of that responsibilities given to them, but also knows how essential it is to equip these young people with the right tools to complete their service to the church well. A few of the ladies who have been dutifully setting up potlucks for years, seek out a few of the youth that they know and ask if they can put together a team to learn to set up for potlucks. Prior to the next potluck, these women meet with those first couple of youth to explain the basic needs that should be taken into consideration when setting up for the potluck. A key is shared with one particular youth so that the group will have access to the room. When the first potluck following their recruitment comes, the youth arrive to being setting up. Shortly after they start one of the ladies stops in to check in and answer any questions that the youth might have. Following the potluck this lady chats with the initial youth who asked to put the team together. They talk through what worked and what might need to be adjusted for next time. The youth leave with a sense of pride in a job well done, even if a few tables had to be rearranged mid-way through the course of the potluck.

When developing a ministry approach in your congregation that seeks to provide opportunities for keychain leadership it is vitally important that Supportive Adults are intentional in how they interact with the young people of the congregation generally, as well as specifically for those who are being equipped for leadership. Supportive adults walk with young people over the long haul. They get to know young people personally, by name, and seek to know enough about their lives to celebrate their triumphs, mourn their losses, and thus provide guidance in aiding them in growing as disciples of Christ.

You hopefully saw just such an approach described in the third option listed above for empowering youth to take on setting up for a potluck. As church leaders we have choices in how we empower young people with the tasks that we ask them to take part in. There is a difference between asking the youth of your church to set up chairs as opposed to having them learn how to think through the overall flow of an event in order to understand the full set up of not only the chairs, but the tables and all other items. A potluck is a simplistic example, but the same principle holds for ever more challenging leadership roles that young people might be asked to take on. If you as a church leader are going to ask a young person to lead, you need to be willing to equip them by walking with them, but also allow enough space for their work the be meaningful enough and their role substantive enough that they feel the weight of the load of leadership that they are being asked to bear.

Walking with young people in this manner provides them with the opportunity to be disciple as a follower of Christ. The relationships developed across generations creates the space in which young people are able to explore their identity in Christ as the test out their vocational callings in service of the church and the community. Through these relationships young people grow in their understanding of the church as the Body of Christ through their service. They grow in their understanding of themselves as followers of Christ and their place in the Body of Christ.

By offering substantive leadership that FYI calls Keychain leadership, youth develop not only leadership skills, but a resiliency of faith as they are given space, freedom, and guidance in relationship with mature believers.

Find out more about this series here.