How do you develop leaders from within your church or ministry? It starts by noticing and paying attention to the strengths of not only your leaders, but the people you serve.
When my son Aaron was asked to write an essay in school this year about a difficult experience in his life, he chose to write about having to go to a Christian summer camp for a week. Bad food, a counselor he was certain "hated children," boring chapel services, cabins he felt were far too dirty and rustic (he's kind of a neat freak)—he said these were the things that made it a difficult time. Truth be told, I think he may have been a bit homesick. He wouldn't go on church retreats or to "away" camps for a long time after that.
Part of my son's reticence about camp was because he is a bit shy and reserved. But he's grown in confidence now that he's in high school. Part of that is just growing up—but part of it is that leaders at church have recognized and called forth his strengths. He's a willing helper and a good listener. His leaders have taken time to notice his character, the depth behind his stillness.
So somewhat ironically, the kid who hated camp went away at a church retreat for our junior high students—but this time, as a volunteer staff person.
A couple of friends encouraged him to volunteer for the summer with Elevate, our very cool ministry to junior high students, which he graduated from only a year ago. He agreed to try.
Aaron's a kid who learns by observing. He's watched his older sister volunteer in our children's ministry, in the 3-year-old room, and noticed the joy she gets from that weekly service. He's heard our family talk about being difference makers, about using our spiritual gifts.
So he was open to the phone call from the adult leader who formally invited him to go through the interview and application process to be a student leader with Elevate. The leader left him a voicemail and told him that several other adults in the ministry—including the director, who baptized Aaron a year ago—had talked about what a quality person he was. "You come highly recommended," the leader said. Aaron told me about getting that message with pride. "Mom, I'm highly recommended," he said.
"Buddy, I am so proud of you," I told Aaron. "That means more to me than good grades or doing well in sports, because someone is recognizing that you are a man of character and integrity." He nodded, listening. "I love that people can see that you have a strong spiritual life—that's what really matters." (I later e-mailed the director and thanked him for his positive words about my son).
As for the retreat, my son had a great time. He was sore from loading and unloading luggage onto trucks, but he loved telling us about the crazy games and competitions they had set up for the kids. He came away knowing he'd been an important part of a very special weekend for the younger kids in our community.
Leadership is not just telling people what to do or where to go—it's developing the people you lead. Our junior high ministry is doing that really well. They've gained my son as a volunteer, but he's gained confidence and a chance to use his gifts. It's a win-win.
When you name and affirm people's strengths, you will find that they become more enthusiastic about leadership—whether volunteer or staff. Leaders, do you speak words of affirmation to people you lead, naming the giftedness you see in them?
Are you on the lookout for the kid who has potential to be a leader? Which kids in your children's or youth ministry could become more than they are right now?
Keri Wyatt Kent speaks and writes books about slowing down enough to find God in your story. She helps her readers and listeners connect faith with real life. Learn more about her or contact her at www.keriwyattkent.com.
© 2011, Keri Wyatt Kent