Throughout this “Transitioning Faith” series, we have been looking at how to best prepare students for the challenges of life after high school graduation.
Primarily, we have been asking the questions that determine the type of student that we want to be sending off into the next season of life.
Do we want these teens to be strong, maturing followers of Christ, or are we fine transitioning away a marginal, status quo believer?
Over the past two months, we have been looking at four categories of this transitional journey: identity, community, wisdom and ownership, with ownership representing the end goal.
Once a teenager is growing at the level of taking responsibility and ownership over his/her faith, that individual will be more equipped to handle the challenges ahead that stunt the growth of so many young believers.
But, we don’t want to just stop there. We do not simply want our teenage friends to transition their faith; we want them to transform and even transcend where they currently are in their walk with Christ.
A student who understands what it means to take ownership over his faith is primed for leadership as he begins to unfold what it means to live a life of purpose and calling.
Leadership is a spiritual gift, according to Romans 12:8, and one that every believer is called to at some level.
In Matthew 5, Jesus calls His followers to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He is calling us all to be leaders and influencers.
Jesus says that we are the light of the world and that a city on the top of a hill cannot be missed. Light is used to guide and provide clarity.
When a group is walking along a trail at night, it is the one with the light that is essentially leading. Jesus also says that we are the salt of the earth, preserving humanity through leadership.
But what use are we in leading, Jesus asks, if we lose our saltiness, and how can we guide if we cover our light?
Before we get any further, let me stop and define leadership, because when I say that we are all called to be leaders, I don’t mean that everyone is supposed to be the vocal person in the front of each group.
Leadership is a perspective more than it is a position.
Case in point: If you are reading this post, you most likely are actively involved in a student ministry. You might be the youth pastor, an assistant or a volunteer.
Either way, you are a leader in that ministry, and your purpose is to change lives. Having the perspective of a leader, you understand that you are called to be an influencer in faith and a teacher of the Word.
Ephesians 4:1 calls us all to live our lives worthy of the call that God has given us. This is what it means to be a leader.
Establishing this perspective in the life of a teenager will give him/her a sense of mission and purpose as the teen transitions into life after high school.
First, in order for Christians to understand leadership, they must understand the concept of a servant leader. The world’s definition of leadership is the quarterback, CEO, military commander or activist who stands in front and speaks the loudest, but Jesus modeled a very different brand of leader.
Jesus taught that a servant leader is often the last in line, yet confident in his resolve. A servant leader is not afraid to get his hands dirty, go the extra mile or model to others what it means to follow Christ.
Teenagers need to understand this distinctive leadership perspective because it is required to grasp what it means to be the light of the world.
Servant leadership is counter to the ways of culture and is rarely caught unless it has been taught.
Second, teenagers need to understand calling and begin to see themselves as someone who is called to ministry. This is not to say that every teenager will become a full-time minister; that is not the implication.
Rather, every Christian needs to see a bigger picture of their faith and know that they are called to be salt and light (Matt. 5), Christ’s ambassador (2 Cor. 5) and a seeker of the lost (Matt. 28), regardless of their job, position or current status.
Everyone is called to be in ministry, because ministry is simply the overflow of following Jesus. A student who never understands this call to ministry will continue to see himself as his own, living for his own pursuits and purposes.
Even participating in a campus ministry in college or serving on a mission trip will become something he does rather than an extension of something he is.
A Christian with ownership over her faith, with an understanding of servant leadership and a sense of ministry in her life, will desire to grow in that perspective and mature in her faith – not because she has been asked to but because she is compelled to.
The last step in teaching leadership to teenagers is to actually give them opportunities to lead.
Traditionally, in my experience, youth groups lack opportunities for students to step up and become leaders in the church and/or the community.
We teach them verses like 1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV): “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young…”
Yet we fail to give them opportunities to “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (NIV)
Once an older teenager gets to a place of ownership, he/she should be teaching and sharing with others about what God has called them to.
Instead of taking students to serve and telling them what to do, we should be asking them how they want to serve and letting them creatively work through a plan.
When I was a senior in high school, my youth group voted me the president of the youth ministry. To this day, I still have no idea what that meant. All I did was pray before more meals than others and help the youth minister plan a few summer events.
That was a missed opportunity for me to be in a player/coach, student/intern type role of ministry that would have prepared me for leadership in college.
Instead, it took me until my junior year in college to hear that call clearly and understand that I was called to be a leader on my campus and in my life.
Don’t let your students miss that opportunity.