How To Talk To Your Students About Leadership

By Ryan Weber

I recently asked a few high school students what it means to lead someone, whether it’s on a spiritual level, athletically, socially, whatever. Their answer: “I dunno, just be nice.”

Face. Palm.

One of my burdens as a pastor to students is to equip and ready them to lead in a generation and culture that is increasingly becoming indifferent about faith and ignorant of a strong, biblical worldview. Leadership is a difficult concept to teach. Paul writes in Romans 12:8 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 that leadership is itself a spiritual gift.

Talking to your teen about leadership is complex. We are still trying to instill within them a spirit of submission for parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, etc. The ability to develop this skill is vital to proper growth in so many areas of their lives. By learning to submit, these teenagers will become better students, better teammates, better employees, and better future spouses and parents themselves. It’s hard to fully teach leadership to people who are bombarded almost daily with stipulations and rules that limit their ability to lead. They are told when to wake up, when to go to school, what classes to take, when to leave school, how much homework is required of them, when to be at practice, what to do at practice, when to be home for dinner, why they can’t go out with their friends this weekend, etc., etc.

I get it. We want our teens to submit because we know what’s best for them. We want to put them in the best situation to succeed, and we do that by being hands on. That’s what good parents, teachers, leaders do. They invest intentionally in the lives of the people they are called to lead. So the difficulty is in letting go. Allowing them to take the principles and insights that you have given them through their upbringing and let them practice. This may mean you communicate to them that you are going to lengthen their leash (figuratively speaking, of course… maybe) and allow them to make decisions on their own.

One of the things that we tell our students who go on our Core Adventures Camp (which by the way, if you have a Middle or High School Student, sign them up for Core Adventures right now. It really will be one of the best experiences of their year) that their leaders are not their babysitters. We will not be keeping track of everything that they do from sun-up to sun-down. We aren’t going to be policing the campground after lights out to make sure they aren’t trying to set the campground on fire. We expect more of them. They will live with the consequences of their own choices. If we as leaders find out that they abused that privilege, they know exactly why they are getting their discipline. We tell them at the beginning of the week that their leaders will be looking for those people that take it upon themselves, step up, and lead their team of peers.

Do you want to know what that does? It opens up an opportunity for your kids to blow you away. Will some of them make dumb choices? Of course, they’re kids and their brain synapses don’t always fire the way you’d expect normal human being’s synapses to fire. But these kids will step up, they will encourage one another, they will keep each other accountable, they will put end to conversations that shouldn’t be happening, they will open up about struggles, and do life together.

The issue that I come across is that often we don’t need to talk to our students more about leadership (though I think we can pair our many talks with our teens with some biblical back-up, it may make your job a bit easier). We do that enough. We need to let them exhibit what it is we are stressing. They can’t make wise choices if you are making all the wise choices for them. At some point, we need to let them do what it is we’re telling them to do.

If they want to quit the baseball team in the middle of the season, talk to them about the ramifications of that decision, talk to them about what effect that may have, but let them make a decision. They will come to grips with the consequences. And they will grow. That’s what a good leader does. Makes a choice. Learns. Keeps growing.