How do we unleash leadership potential in teens? Many churches desire youths to step up and take leadership roles… but how have we empowered them?
Few years ago, my former church participated in serving our city alongside 100 other churches in the county. Our youth group was assigned to A Place Called Home, an after-school program for underprivileged, low-income children in downtown Los Angeles. We spent the whole day cleaning their library. One student reached out to me 2 weeks later. She had noticed how tattered and old the books in the library were. She told me that she wanted to do something to help. I then asked her to pray about what she could do, and to write me a proposal. Another week later, she came back to church with a portfolio with a plan for an 8-week bake sale. I told her that I would support her in whatever she planned to do… but she would have to do the work. My part was securing the church’s industrial sized kitchen, space for the bake sale, and obtain permission from the church board since we had a policy regarding fundraisers. We decided that 8 weeks were too long and compromised on 4-weeks…
I have to admit that I had my own doubts regarding the success of this bake sale. However, I believe in allowing students to take risks, experience new things, and fail. The student had reached out to 10 other girls in the group, and they came up with online donation website, personalized packaging, and branding. When the first day of bake sale came, it looked amazing. But since they had spent so much money in prep, I once again had my doubts there would be any profit. To my own surprise, when it was said and done, they raised $1,600 to donate to the non-profit. We took 15 students with us to deliver the check in person to the director of A Place Called Home. We explained how this was all initiated, planned, and executed by high school girls in our ministry.
What I have learned from this experience is that youths have so much more potential than what I usually give them credit. There were many times when I wanted to step in, re-direct them, and tell them how to do things better. I often think I know the best ways. But I know that I learn best from my own mistakes. Therefore, I thought I’d let the girls take risks and fail so they can learn from their mistake. But this became a bigger lesson for me! The girls owned this project from beginning to end. The girls did way more than I thought they would. The girls thought of every little detail to make this project a big success. In hindsight, I’m so thankful that I didn’t butt in… rather I supported them best way that I could, and became their biggest cheerleader.
Success is not always guaranteed. However, sometimes fear of failure or commitment of time and resources keeps us from fully empowering students. We can learn a lot from mistakes. I learned that we can also learn a lot from success.
This experience gave the exact confidence boost that these students needed. They were so energized by all the donations as well as congregants that looked forward to supporting them week after week, that they would want to do more the following week. After our visit to deliver the donation check, they asked if they can continue to volunteer and support the non-profit. They wanted to do more projects to support them.
This became a springboard for us leaders to empower more students. We encouraged the students to be sensitive to God’s nudging of hearts. God often puts ideas in our hearts and minds… and not to ignore the work of the Holy Spirit. We encouraged the students to go after their dreams, utilize their spiritual gifts and God-given talents, and to be creative. Then, we told them that we often need to take risks despite our fears when God nudges our hearts. We shared our own stories of how risk-taking has led to big outcomes. We also talked about failure. It’s okay to fail, because we can often learn and grow from failures. Lastly, we assured them that the leaders would journey with them.
As a result, we had more students step up to join the praise and tech team. We had students volunteering to serve in adult ministries. We had more students taking lead on mission trips. We had students volunteering to decorate and run our church café on Sundays. We got to witness students rising up to be leaders. But most of all, we got to witness the original group of girls become change-agents in their high schools and colleges as well as in the church. This relationship that began as a simple bake sale to help replace some old books has grown over the last five years. A Place Called Home now partners with the church to serve others in the community. You never know how unleashing a potential in your teens can change your group, the church, the community, or even the world!
Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.
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