Why Youth Leadership Development Is Important – First Move Mondays


First Move Mondays

“First Move Mondays” is a weekly series of articles that will help you establish or strengthen a leadership development program in your youth group.  These articles are aimed at youth leaders who are either contemplating a youth leadership team, those who have just started them, or youth leaders that want to strengthen the foundation of their existing program.


Why Leadership Development Is Important

When I first became a youth minister, I was completely overwhelmed by the task I had undertaken.  I had some ideas about youth ministry, but it was obvious that the students in the group had other ideas.  Wanting to give a sense of ownership in the group, I invited five of the students to meet with me once a month to help plan and execute activities for the youth group.

I didn’t know it, but I had set up a small leadership team.  Being new and ignorant, I didn’t realize it, but every one of those students exhibited the potential to be amazing leaders in whatever field they went into.  Problem was, I didn’t know how to spot this kind of potential, or how to develop it.  Back when I first put together that team, I was looking for a way to involve the students and, honestly, take some stress off of me.  Looking back, I realize I missed an amazing opportunity to speak into a group of extremely gifted young people whom I have no doubt will be leading their churches, businesses and communities very soon.

It occurred to me soon after that youth ministers have an amazing opportunity to influence the foundation of a young person’s leadership development.  Why aren’t more of us seizing this opportunity?  Why don’t we see the moment that’s been given to us to raise up the next generation of leaders?

Don’t we see it as important?  Do we view it as our job?  I didn’t.  In fact, I didn’t even think about leadership development.  I was a part-time youth minister that also functioned as an assistant pastor.  It was all I could do to put together two lessons a week and plan special events for the youth.  I felt like I didn’t have time to do leadership training, and honestly, I didn’t even see it as a priority.

Now, my priorities have changed.  My thoughts have changed.  The deeper I got into youth ministry, and the more I considered what youth ministry was about, the more clear it became that one of the more important things that I could do was to prepare students for Christian leadership; to push them and challenge them and prayerfully consider their purpose and calling in community with them.

Maybe you’re not convinced that you need to be developing leadership in your youth group.  Do me a favor and take a couple of minutes to read the reasons you should be developing leadership in your youth which are listed below.  Prayerfully consider each of them.  If you’re still not convinced, then you’re probably right, leadership development may not be for you; but if you feel God tugging at your heart, stirring a passion for your students, then join us:  Next in Line exists to serve you so you can serve your students.


Current Events

I know you’ve been watching the news lately.  It seems that every week there’s a new story about a leader who has fallen from their position.  Whether arrested for some illegality, caught in a sexual scandal, or benefitting to the detriment of their company or the people who work for it, America has had more than her share of fallen leaders.  We hear about unethical or just bad leadership every day.  You don’t even have to read the papers to find it; maybe you just show up at work and it’s on display.

The world is looking for a better, more responsible breed of leader. We haven’t quite decided yet where these good leaders should come from, but we’re looking.  Some look to our educational system to turn out the next generation of leaders.  Others want state and federal programs focused on leadership development.

Why aren’t people looking to the church? Is it because they don’t want us to train young leaders?  Is it because the church has had more than its share of leadership scandals and no one trusts us?  Or is it because we’ve never given the culture any reason to expect us to train Christ-centered leaders?

What the world needs is a counter-cultural leader:  a leader that eschews power and leads from love.  Looking around, I can see only one place that can turn out that kind of leader:  the church. The Church has to step up and take an active role in the education, mentoring, and training of young leaders.  To do so obviously helps the church, as the young leaders who are coming into their own will be better prepared to meet the rigors of church leadership.  It also helps the culture at large if a new group of young men and women who are equipped, passionate, and Christ-centered enter leadership positions in all aspects of society.

Pastors and Youth Pastors, you are uniquely positioned to offer this training.  You already have a relationship with these young people, and are (hopefully) laying a good Biblical foundation for the work you would do with them in leadership training.  They trust us, and look to us for guidance in spiritual matters.  They can look to us for guidance in leadership matters as well.


Leadership training for youth gives purpose

George Barna released a report that stated that ½ of 1% of people ages 18-23 hold a Christian worldview.  That’s just scary.  Want to hear more?  The church loses almost 80% of its young people after High School.  Why?  There are many reasons, but one that I’m particularly interested in is purpose.  For years We’ve done our best to entertain and educate youth while they are in High School, but something that we often fail to do is show them purpose.  Although young people may not vocalize their questions about their purpose, they have them:  “What role do I play in the church going forward?  Is there a place for me in church now that I’m “an adult”? What does God want from my life?”  On a larger scale, “why am I here?”

Leadership training, if done right, focuses students on their Spiritual gifts, their God-given strengths,  and the roles their calling will play in church and society.  For some of your students, that will mean leadership in the church.  For others, it means leadership in Government, business, and even in their households.  The awareness of their God-given passions, gifts, and calling and your guidance give them purpose.  Purpose gives students a reason to stay in church.  I promise you that students will find purpose for their lives, however misguided it may be, from their friends, families, college, and culture.  Sadly, most of this purpose will lead them away from the church.  In short, if we don’t help them find their God-given purpose, we’ll lose our students to those forces that will give them a counterfeit purpose.


Christian youth are gifted by God and are intended to use those gifts

We read in Romans 12 about some of the gifts that are given to believers to promote unity, spiritual growth, and service to our Lord.  I think sometimes we forget that believing youth are given gifts as well, even leadership gifts.  Many times we don’t think of our students as having the gift of leadership, or any gift at all, because we are blinded by their age and maturity and don’t see them as leaders.  It’s not like a Spiritual gift automatically kicks in when a person becomes an adult, a spiritual gift is there from the time of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  But, just as in adults, these gifts need to be identified, strengthened, and put into practice by the youth that possess them.

The gift of leadership, mentioned in Romans 12, is often overlooked in youth groups, probably because the youth group already has a leader(s).  We often make the mistake of seeing youth ministry as top down (and we youth leaders are at the top), ignoring the fact that we may have many gifted youth that are just itching for a chance to lead.  A leadership development team is the perfect place to develop youth with the gift of leadership and to turn them loose in actual leadership experiences, under your supervision, of course.

Those youth with the gift of leadership need to learn about and use those gifts.  Anything else is unwise stewardship.  Just as any other believer with a gift, we were given the gift to be exercised.  For a youth whose gift is leadership, there is no time like the present to begin using it, practicing it, and honing it for God’s call on the student’s life.


Most secular leadership training will not use biblical models

There are many sources of leadership development.  Just take a look at any bookstore and marvel at the vast number of leadership books on the shelf.  Do a search on the internet for “leadership development” and see just how many thousands of matches you get.  The college where I did my undergraduate studies is well known for its leadership studies programs.  Many larger High Schools have leadership development programs as well.  Leadership Development is out there:  it’s not a secret.

Many of these leadership programs revolve around making right choices, conflict resolution, and warding off peer pressure, but they are not based on biblical leadership models.  Often, these programs are underpinned with developmental psychology and the newest philosophies of business leadership.  Those things can be helpful, and any leadership program that lacks a notion of developmental psychology or that doesn’t pay attention to new leadership trends is bound to be lacking, but these programs are not based on God’s Word, and therefore lack Truth.  Christian leadership is different from anything else that’s offered – I probably don’t have to tell you that.  The Christian idea of leadership isn’t based in power, but in love; it’s rooted in Jesus Christ, not the latest writings of a developmental or organizational specialist, and it’s not from the mind of an incredibly successful business leader.

The Bible promotes a style of leadership that is counterintuitive to almost every model that our culture has produced.  Being last, serving others, working for the benefit of all but yourself; these are but a few of the leadership qualities that Jesus promotes as necessary for Christian leadership, but that many leadership development programs won’t touch.

While I am elated that more colleges and High Schools are offering leadership programs, they can never replace Biblical leadership training or excuse us from training young leaders.  In fact, in light of knowing that this other training exists and is influencing our young people, now more than ever I think we’d see the importance of Christ-centered leadership development in our youth groups.


Do you want young leaders to repeat your mistakes?

All right, time to dig deep.  Do you remember when you were just starting to take baby steps in your first leadership position?  It was a truly awkward time for me.  Being thrown into a place of leadership with little or no training freaked me out enough.  Mistakes had very real consequences not only in my life, but in the lives of those I ministered to.  I remember talking to my pastor and some other leaders about my struggles.  Basically, I was told that “we all pay our dues”.  Every one of them had gone through the same thing, and had learned through trial.

I was quite disturbed at this.  Why do we have to pay our dues?  There’s no doubt we learn through mistakes, but if we can keep from making a few of them because we learn beforehand, wouldn’t that be better?  Wouldn’t it save us some heartache?  Wouldn’t it save our congregation some heartache? Couldn’t it save some ministries and ministers?   I think it would.  Experience may be our best teacher, but a lot of mistakes can be avoided with the right training and influence.

I don’t wish my first confused, mistake-ridden days of ministry on anybody, and feel like I should apologize to those that had to endure them.  I have always wished there had been a primer for me to look at as I began my journey in Christian leadership, some way I could have been prepared for what was in front of me.  As a leader looking back on this, I want desperately to spare new leaders some of the pain inherent in the early days of my ministry.

Youth Leadership development can lay a foundation of information and experiences that will give a new leader some idea of what they are facing.  It can ease young people into leadership as they learn and grow used to it’s responsibilities, heartaches, and joys.  They might not be spared all the new experiences (and resulting pain), but they will have a better idea of what’s happening, what to expect, and what not to expect.

Students that are allowed to make mistakes under someone else’s guidance are better prepared for when those mistakes are on their own.  Better that those mistakes are worked out now where a real support group and structure can help diffuse some of the consequences, than when the new leader is on their own in a ministry.

We can also use our experiences to mentor the youth under our guidance.  They can be guided in what to do and what not to do until they can repeat it back to you in their sleep, but when they see real life consequences involved, and the chance to miss some of that pain, they will take it to heart and guard their hearts and steps.


The future and the Now

Put very simply, the youth are the future and the now.  That seems pretty broad to say, and it is, but it is no less true for leadership.  Your youth have leadership potential right now, and will emerge from wherever they go when they leave your youth group as tomorrow’s leaders.  The fact that youth will eventually lead hasn’t changed since the beginning of time, and it seems our response to that fact hasn’t either.  We’ve sat by and watched our teens march into the unknown for years.  We’ve let them repeat our mistakes.  We’ve let the secular system have its way with them for too long.

We also seem to have forgotten that even though our youth may not be preaching from behind a pulpit in our church doesn’t mean that they are not leaders.  Your students are leading in their schools, in their homes, on their ball teams, and with their friends.  They aren’t any less a leader because we haven’t given them the title.  They’re just learning it by themselves.

Our youth are today’s leaders and tomorrow’s.  We can help them, guide them, and train them, or we can do what we have been doing:  standing back and hoping everything turns out okay.


 Biblical Leaders train more Biblical Leaders

We shouldn’t forget that Jesus spent three years raising up a ragtag group of young men that would later be responsible for taking the gospel to the world.  We can’t forget the relationship Paul had with Timothy, or the relationship Moses had with Joshua.  Biblical leaders train other biblical leaders, we see it throughout the bible, time and time again.  It’s a pattern that we should be paying attention to.

The Bible shows us examples of God placing people under great older leaders that would train with them, build community with them, and share in their experiences until they were ready to be turned loose on the world.  One leader to the next, the mantle would be passed on.  We should be taking this example and running with it – it’s the perfect example of how we’re to train leaders.


The world is screaming for new leadership.  It yearns for integrity, morality, ethical behavior, and responsibility.  Those are things that we believe in, things God has written on our hearts as a saved people.  We are already teaching young people how to lead a Christian life.  Why can’t we teach them to apply it to their leadership?  It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick.  But we can do it, and we should.

I hope you join a growing movement across the world that capitalizes on the opportunity we have to speak Christ into a group of emerging leaders.  We need to band together, learn from each other, and encourage each other along the way.  I hope this article has inspired you a bit, and I hope that student leadership development becomes a priority in your ministry.  Check out www.nextinlineministries.org for resources, articles, and encouragement as you start, or continue, this journey.

About Matt Gooch

Christ Follower, Husband to Brandy, and Executive Director of Next in Line Ministries. My true passion is leadership development for teenagers. I love to read, write, hike, and spend time with my family.

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