“How do we help students become leaders?”
There are lots of great answers to that question, but near the top of my list every year is this: “Get them to go on the mission trip!” There are a lot of built-in aspects of service experiences that help students become leaders. But with intentionality, we as leaders can take an already-meaningful experience to the next level.
Here are three simple things you can do to empower your students to deepen their leadership during your next mission trip.
From navigating the route to leading small group time, there are tons of little tasks that you could hand off to teenagers. Of course, having a student lead discussion will probably take more prep than simply doing it yourself, but something amazing happens when we let students take charge. What could have been another ordinary task becomes a building block in a student’s journey toward leadership? On top of that, students get to take ownership of the experience, and other students are more likely to buy in when they see a peer-leading.
On YouthWorks trips, a good deal of this student leadership is built in, including encouragement for students to take ownership of specific responsibilities in the kitchen, on work projects sites and at Kids Club.
But there are plenty of other opportunities. For example: leading at service sites, making sure team members are staying hydrated, helping enforce lights out, leading a devotion, facilitating games in the van, leading various elements of team time, leading prayer each day… The possibilities are endless!
Make the extra effort to incorporate students into leadership positions, especially those teenagers who might be slow to step forward on their own.
Handing off responsibility is great… in theory. But if you’ve done it much, you probably know that the outcome isn’t always as good as if you’d just done it yourself. It’s easy for adults to want to hover and make sure everything is just right, but sometimes the best thing you can do is step back.
Of course, sometimes stepping back is a slow process. If a student has never used a lawnmower, hovering around a little and making sure they understand how it works is probably a good idea. Eventually, though, look for the ways you can release students to own the leadership opportunity in front of them.
It’s true. You might sacrifice a little quality in the short-term, but by stepping back and letting students lead, you’ll have the long view of discipleship in sight.
Experience is only half the process! Once students have experienced leadership, you can help them solidify that experience by talking about it with them. Look for moments when you can catch a teenager in a conversation. Talk only a little. Listen a lot! And come prepared with questions.
Here are a few great questions to ask teenagers who are leading on a mission trip:
- What stands out to you from this experience as most meaningful?
- How did it feel to lead in that way?
- Is there anything you’d do differently next time?
- What did you learn from leading?
- How can you apply what you learned back home in your everyday life?
In addition to asking and listening, be affirming! Tell students how you’ve seen them take leadership and what unique gifts you see in them. And don’t forget to thank them for their leadership.
Your upcoming mission trip will undoubtedly be a great opportunity for students to deepen their faith, step out in service and grow together—but when you hand off, step back and lean in, your next service experience can become part of the way answer the question, “How do we help students become leaders?”
Sam Townsend loves wooded trails on warm summer days, full conversations over half-price apps and puns that could make a grown man groan. He is a writer, a third-generation footlong hotdog salesman and the Senior High Ministry Pastor at Calvary Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’s also a big fan of YouthWorks, where he contributes to theme material creation and blog production.