If you’re a youth leader, you’re in good company—with the Son of God Himself! Many biblical scholars—after studying the Gospels and first-century Jewish culture—have concluded that most of the 12 disciples Jesus called to be apostles were likely teenagers. What’s more, He used those teenagers to change the world, by teaching and inspiring them to share the Gospel near and far.
Part of Jesus’s training strategy involved pouring even more deeply into three of the 12 apostles—Peter, James, and John. Likewise for your ministry, investing your time and energy into a few on-fire students via a student-leadership team can help transform your whole group into a Gospel Advancing ministry, with teenagers setting the pace.
Jesus’s interaction with His disciples serves as an excellent model for how to build and train a student-leadership team. He used a “Crawl, Walk, Run” method that applies beautifully in our own ministry contexts. Here’s what it looked like:
1. The “Who”
“One of those days, Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles…” Luke 6:12-13
He picked hot-tempered fishermen, a denier, a doubter, a religious zealot, a tax-collecting betrayer of his own people, and a thieving backstabber. Best. Team. Ever.
Before you decide who should and shouldn’t be on the team, I urge you to follow the example of Jesus, who desperately went before the Father for wisdom about whom to choose. Let Him guide you, and then trust the power of His Gospel and the potential of the Holy Spirit working through unlikely teenagers!
2. The Crawl
Jesus called these disciples to follow Him and learn what He was about by watching His own actions, interactions, and teaching.
“On the third day, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’s mother was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding.” John 2:1-2
By not throwing them into the deep end by having them teach right away—or just handing them mundane tasks like carrying chairs—Jesus enabled the disciples to learn from Jesus by observing Him in a variety of contexts. Through this, they started to align their hearts with the mission He was inviting them on.
What parts of your life and ministry can you invite students into, simply to observe what it means to walk in alignment with Jesus and to lead others? Maybe invite a few to join you for a family dinner in your home where they can see you interact with your spouse and kids. Take a student with you to go share the Gospel with your neighbor, or invite them to be a part of your lesson prep for your weekly program.
3. The Walk
Jesus then invited the disciples to join Him in the work of the ministry, while He remained hands-on with them.
“After this, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where He spent some time with them, and baptized.” John 3:22
“…although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but His disciples.” John 4:2
The beautiful thing we see here is Jesus entrusting something into the hands of His followers that most of us wouldn’t ever consider entrusting to a teenager. But why not? If we want to see teens in our communities reached and growing as followers of Jesus, why wouldn’t we? You as a leader aren’t supposed to do the work of the ministry, but rather to equip your followers to do it! As Ephesians 4:12 tells us, church leaders are called to “…equip His people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up…”
What elements of your ministry program do you need to hand off to your student leaders?
4. The Run
After aligning His disciples with His heart and mission, and having them accompany Him in the work, Jesus then asks them to assist Him in accomplishing the mission.
“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Luke 9:1-2
Jesus sent them out to multiply the movement beyond what could be accomplished by one person, trusting that these followers would carry the mission, model, and methods He had trained them in. The result? Acts 17:6 tells us that within just a few years these followers of Jesus had “turned the world upside-down”!
How are you sending out your students to multiply the reach?
If our goal is disciples making disciples, then we must start doing that ourselves. With Jesus as our example of how to raise students up, let’s embrace a model of student leadership that can shake up your whole community and enable every teen in your group’s reach to hear the Gospel from a friend.