Training Student Leaders… Yourself!

By Jonathan McKee Posted on September 25 2012

If you want to train your teenagers without the expense of hiring professional trainers, you can easily do effective training yourself by using regularly scheduled student leadership meetings.

I (Jonathan) helped facilitate several teen leadership programs at my church where we met once a month after the Sunday services. We always provided lunch for everyone and then ran our team meeting from 1 to 3 p.m.

Typically, after a quick team-building activity to break the ice, I’d dedicate about 30 minutes to training the kids. I usually did this myself. Here are a few of the strategies I used.

1. Article, Book, or Podcast Discussion
Training your leaders can be as simple as handing out an article and discussing it as a group. If you meet weekly or monthly, distribute a printed copy of an article to everyone, instruct them to read it right then and there (because oftentimes if you send it home with the kids in advance, some won’t read it ahead of time anyway), and then take a few minutes to ask five or six questions about the article.

If you have trouble getting your students excited about an article, just use a subject that will rile them up. For example, hand out this recent article I posted on about the songs a high school played at homecoming dance. Then ask your student leaders:

   · Does your school play this kind of music?
   · Do you think Christians should listen to this kind of music?
   · How should a Christian respond when they are at an activity and music like this starts playing?
   · What does the Bible say about this?

Use controversy to drive your teenagers to the scripture for answers. Often teenagers will be quick to share what they think “off the cuff.” Ask them, “What scripture would help you back up that point?”

Let’s say the article is about academic cheating—a big problem for an overwhelming majority of teens these days. Your training could include these discussion questions:

   · What does the Bible say about cheating?
   · What are some ways that we as leaders can avoid academic cheating?
   · What are the costs associated with academic cheating?
   · What’s our responsibility in terms of reporting academic cheating?
   · How can our ministry offer help to teens who feel tempted to cheat academically or have already done so?

Of course, this particular training has little to do with “101 Ways to Share Your Faith”—but it has everything to do with living as Jesus did, one of our core values for all teen leaders.

From studies about teens’ lives to stories about their actions, you can easily find several articles, reports, or stats to use in your training discussions. You may want to subscribe to a few online youth ministry newsletters (YS offers a good one, and we offer several on our site) and keep your eyes open for relevant articles in newspapers and periodicals. One thing’s for sure: Teenagers are always making the news.

Change it up every once in a while and require your teen leaders to listen to a podcast during the week and be ready to discuss it at the training meeting the following Sunday. There are tons of them related to Christian ministry. Then write some discussion questions just as you would for an article or a book. Some kids might enjoy discussing something they hear more than something they read.

One helpful aspect of this training method is the minimal amount of prep time required. You just need to find an appropriate article or podcast, read or listen to it ahead of time, and then prepare five or six good questions that make one single point. The less you talk, the better. This method is more facilitating than training.

2. Ministry or Program Debriefing
Every time we did something in our youth ministry, we discussed it immediately after it ended. Whether it was our weekly outreach ministry, our weekly worship night, or a weekend event, our teen leaders knew the job wasn’t finished until we’d debriefed. (Although very occasionally, such as after a really big event like a summer camp, we’d take a couple of days to collect our thoughts before debriefing.)

During this debriefing time, our team of leaders would simply gather around and talk about what just happened—what they liked and didn’t like, what they saw, who they spoke with during the relationship-building moments, what could be improved, any special needs within the lives of the kids, and anything else they’d noticed. And then we always wrapped it up with prayer.

The good thing about debriefing on the spot is that the ministry or program is fresh on the leaders’ minds. If you delay sharing this information, you risk forgetting something important. Besides, kids are usually willing to hang around and share their thoughts on the advancement of the ministry.

Here are a few pointers to make the most out of your debriefing time:

   · Ask specific questions. Don’t just say, “What did you notice?” Break the ministry down into sections and talk about each piece, one at a time. If you want helpful answers, ask focused questions. Try to be as precise as a doctor or car mechanic when asking these diagnostic questions.  

 · Give everyone a chance to talk. Make sure you don’t stifle the group or unnecessarily hurry it. Don’t be afraid to call someone’s name and ask her a pointed question. “Leigh Ann, you were by the snack bar all night. Could you easily communicate with the other kids, or was the music too loud?”  

 · Start with the newest teen leader first. The military uses this tactic. They tend to start their discussions by asking for feedback from the junior officers first so they won’t simply agree with the older officers. But this works well for other reasons, too. The newest leaders will probably bring the freshest set of eyes to the ministry. Further, knowing their opinions are valued will give them some comfort about sharing with the group in the weeks and months ahead.

This sort of training costs nothing and no preparation is required. The only downside is that sometimes—especially if it’s after a big event—the leaders may be a bit tired. If that’s the case, be sensitive and wise—just ask for thoughts via email or a phone call sometime during the next few days.

3. Team Builders
Building unity is huge (and since we devoted an entire chapter of our Ministry By Teenagers books to this subject, no need to say much here). But just know that getting your team together for some fun, challenging, and interactive team building definitely counts as training. Your teenage leaders will love this stuff—especially if you mix it with lots of food! We provide you with a bunch of team-building ideas in Ministry By Teenagers.

4. One-on-One
I saved the best kind of regular meetings for last. These cost nothing, other than an occasional milkshake or taco, and require very little preparation. But one-on-one meetings provide the most effective and impactful form of youth training by far.

I’m talking about one-on-one training between you and a teen leader—not via email, texting, or phone calls, but good old-fashioned face-to-face training.

There’s a saying in the South: “Rosebushes grow the best in the shade of the gardener.” Of course, rosebushes don’t actually grow well in the shade—they need sunlight as every other plant does. The point is, when the presence of the gardener is close and constant, the rosebush is getting the best care. That’s what one-on-one training gives your teen leaders: Your close and constant care.

One-on-one training sessions usually deal with far more than ministry; oftentimes they can be used to discuss life or family or faith or whatever else is on the kid’s heart. I’ve seen one-on-one training sessions help discouraged kids regain their fervor for ministry. I’ve even been blessed to see young people emerge from these kinds of one-on-one relationships to go in search of full-time ministry leadership. What do these one-on-one times look like? Luckily, YS has a very practical book that lays it out in detail.

Be warned: One-on-one training is the most time-intensive of all the methods. But there’s nothing like doing life with someone as you train her how to share her faith, lead worship, or count the quarters from a soda machine.

These are just a few of the training ideas that have helped us, and you might find them helpful as well. We also find it well worth it to spend a few dollars on some ready-made training curriculum every once in a while. For example, our new affordable Real Conversations training provides four sessions on DVD and has corresponding participants guides. This is a great way for leaders to equip their teenagers to reach out to their friends without scaring them away!

All of these meetings typically work best when food is involved (the last time I checked, kids like to eat). So provide some food and use one of these training measures to make your team of teen leaders better.

Training is vital for your teen leaders. Now you have a few ideas for how to get it done.

(This article is a modified excerpt from Jonathan and David’s popular book, Ministry by Teenagers, offering practical ideas and a detailed “how to” for developing teenagers with a passion for ministry!)


Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of numerous books including Ministry By Teenagers, Connect, Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the award winning book Do They Run When They See You Coming? He speaks and trains at camps, conferences, and events across North America, and provides free resources for youth workers internationally on his website,



Picture of Margo, Bible Fun Factory

From Margo, Bible Fun Factory on September 28, 2012

I’ve never paid a trainer to train my high school student leaders—my church simply doesn’t have that kind of budget! But you gave some really wonderful tips and pointers that are definitely going to help me get through my next training session as successfully as possible. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful post!

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