How Do I Know When My Kids Are Ready to Lead?

Youth leader

Ministry leaders must be sure kids are ready to lead before they are placed up front, so they don’t crumble under pressure or lead others astray.  But can we hold on too tightly? As a ministry leader, teacher, and former kid who loved to lead, I think it’s possible for us to wait too long before giving kids a chance to test their wings in ministry roles.

I take my leadership role seriously and feel guilty if I ask others to lift what I think should be my burden. But the truth is, youth leaders are not there to do all the talking or to entertain the youth.  We are there to help foster the gifts of the younger generation, and to get them ready to carry the baton when their time comes.  But putting gifted youth into leadership roles is risky, and we as leaders need to oversee that process with wisdom.

Be a Farmer, Not An Architect 

Kids are born with God-ordained gifts and talents, and gravitate towards what they are best at doing. We nurture their gifts by offering encouragement and safe settings where they can try out what they have learned. It’s like farming.  We have to watch what comes up, and tend the crop. But too often, we instead “design” and “build” people into something of our making, little proteges created in our own image. We usually aren’t even aware of it when we try to create little versions of ourselves instead of helping others blossom in their own gifts.

Customized Training

Though it’s great to procedures for developing leaders, beware of “one-size-fits-all” methods that force everyone into the same growth pattern. Develop natural gifts by putting them to use.  First have students assist you, then give them a little more responsibility. If you can move towards them doing something with you assisting them, you are just a step away from standing back and letting them go it alone. I believe that God’s vision for raising up leaders is for them to learn by doing, not by watching the “pros.”

Know Your Kids

It’s important to know your kids, and to know their spiritual giftedness and the call they feel on their lives.  I like tools like the Cokesbury Youth Spiritual Gifts Test to help get the conversation started because it is free, easy to interpret, and gives the youth a visual picture of the things they are good at and how God might use those gifts.

Kids who are “large and in charge” may need a little bit of sanding around their rough edges, but the effort is well worth it. Loud or unruly youth have immense leadership potential, and with a little guidance (and a lot of patience), they can flourish into some of the best leaders in your group. They have courage enough to speak up, and can usually recover quickly from embarrassing situations. Remember Peter?  Jesus chose him deliberately, so he obviously has empathy for you when  you deal kids who blurt out anything that comes to their mind. Just remember  The Day of Pentecost and take heart!

Be especially mindful of  kids who will do anything and everything for you because they are seeking acceptance or approval from you or others in the group. They can be huge assets to a youth ministry, but can be in danger of burning out if they do too much.

Let Them Soar!

Bottom line:  There is a delicate balance between giving kids too much responsibility and not enough.  But when it comes to Christian leadership, we need people who are ready to step up and let God mold them into His likeness. And Jesus knows how to use imperfect people to get his work done. So give the kids in your emerging leaders a chance to really take charge, and they may surprise you!

Melody Rossi is Executive Director of Cloud & Fire, an outreach to urban youth in Los Angeles. Reach out by email:

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