Jul 30, 2018


Let the Kids Lead!

Jessica Dahl makes the case that college ministry leaders need to empower and release students for ministry even before we think they’re ready — Let the kids lead!

Throughout history, many protests, revivals, and calls to action began on the college campus.

In the last year, Gen Z’ers have made their voices heard, calling for social change. Youth across the world watch as their peers lead on a global platform. There’s no denying this generation wants to use their voice to bring change which begs the question: Are collegiate ministers empowering their students to lead and affect change on their campuses, or are we asking them to sit back and wait?

Over the past ten years in college ministry, I have learned this lesson the hard way. I often let the immaturities of those I’m leading blind me to the natural zeal and leadership potential there. It is hard work to mine out the God-given leadership in young twenty-somethings. That’s often why we don’t do it.

If we aren’t careful, we will build ministries where students are told to consume before they can lead. Through our systems we unintentionally tell them they’re not ready. Typically the leadership systems we do have in place are in name only and we select a few students to have a place at the leadership table while we continue to do all the work. While not everyone in our ministry should be given spiritual authority, we have to help more people get in the game and follow the radical ways of Jesus as soon as they become Christians. We must learn to empower faithful, available, and teachable students earlier than might feel comfortable. Knowing that they will fail is part of the learning experience, and part of our job as a coach.

Now more than ever, the college campus and the world need genuine kingdom leaders who do not necessarily have a public platform but embody the person of Jesus as they work, study, graduate, get jobs and tell people of the hope they have received.

When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we get a glimpse of how he walked with novice idealists to become genuine kingdom leaders in three short years. How helpful is that timeline for us as we seek to create leaders in college who bear spiritual weight and affect kingdom transformation before they graduate. Here are three ways we can emulate Jesus in empowering kingdom leaders now in our collegiate ministries.

1. Create a Culture of Urgency
Atrophy tells us there is no such thing as plateaued state when it comes to muscles. Either they are growing, or they are wasting away. So many churches suffer from the false idea of stability that is actually leading to their decline. The church of God is a living, thriving organism that is growing at an amazing rate and there is an urgent need for each of us to participate. Jesus knew this, he knew that his departure was imminent, and his discipleship model showed it. There was an urgency to how he led, taught, and sent out his disciples. He called them from their old lives and spent every waking second with them. He modeled gospel fluency everyday, using nature and food to teach the mysteries of the kingdom. He took them around the countryside seeking the broken, the outcast, and the lost. Then in a quick turn around in Luke 9, he sends them to go do all that without him. I doubt they were at a place any of us would have deemed “ready” to be sent out.

As ministry leaders, we have to work to create an everyday urgency that is abundantly clear in the Great Commission, but poorly reflected in our weekly schedules.

Does your ministry have the appropriate on-ramps to challenge people to take steps into leadership? Invite your student leaders to pray for a gospel presence in every dorm, make a plan that creates urgency around that goal, and put them in the game.

What if instead of waiting for your best leaders to graduate before getting their next-up leader in the game, you move that best leader to the position of “coach” and get that younger leader in leadership earlier?

2. Gut your schedule
Jesus gave his entire life to his disciples. His private time was when he snuck out to pray. The disciples had full access to the behind-the-scenes life of a movement leader.

Our job is to equip and unleash, but are often unprepared for what that will mean for our schedules. For many it means slowing down to speed up. It means more chaos and less polished events. It means looping back with young leaders and debriefing everything as a learning zone. It feels slower and clunky in the moment, but in the long run it launches leaders who have been tested, who have failed and seen growth in their  years as an undergrad.

Look at everything in your schedule and ask:“Is this something only I can do?” and “Do I have to do it alone?”

More often than we might think, the answer to that question is “no”. We have to continue to find more ways to invite students into the inner workings of our ministry planning and vision.

3. Teach your leaders to need the Holy Spirit, not you
Jesus himself told his disciples in John 16:7, “It is better that I leave you so that the Helper can come.” He knew that each believer, equipped inwardly with the resurrection power of Christ through the promptings of the Holy Spirit was the end goal.

As ministry leaders, we can be insecure in our challenges toward those we are leading. We sugarcoat the ask and downplay the mission. Some do the opposite, making a brash, cold demand for time, causing the student to feel over their heads and bullied into a missional role.

Jesus knew the balance of relationship and challenge. He knew that joy and depth lay on the other side of challenge. As we gently push our leaders into more, we have to remind them it is for their good. If they are comfortable and safe, they don’t need to rely on the spirit of God daily. When they are weak and overwhelmed, they have to dig into the promises of God. Rather than step in and bail them out, we should teach them to need the word and the spirit of God in new ways. This is how genuine kingdom leaders really take off. Once they graduate, they will have already learned they don’t need you or your ministry model to impact those around them because they have the Holy Spirit. To create leaders ready to send and lead after they graduate, we have to create leadership currents of low control and high accountability (Mike Breen, 3DM) .

May college campuses continue to be the eye of the storm of chang. May the next spiritual awakening of our generation start with our students as we seek to emulate Jesus and empower kingdom leaders before they graduate.

Suggested resources:
The Multiplying Life: 3DM Square Shape


about the author

Jessica Dahl

Jessica has been involved with collegiate ministry with Resonate Church in Washington state since 2009. Jessica and her husband Jacob live in Ellensburg, Washington where they moved to plant a church in 2014. www.resonate.net