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Leadership Focus: A Guide for Investing in Your Student Leader Team

Building your campus ministry team can be a big task! Every fall can feel like starting from square one sometimes as we welcome a new batch of leaders to the team and invite past leaders back into the fold. That said, there are some ways of navigating this process that can set you up for success. Here are some steps that can help you establish organizational strength and health with your student leader team this year.

1. Vet your leaders and help them find their fit

There are many different roles in campus ministry. Some of your students will be prepared and ready for bigger roles with more responsibilities, while others may be better suited to smaller roles. Helping your team discover their fit is important. Many students already know what that fit is; others are less aware and think they can do any and all roles.

Being measured with your leaders to get a sense of where they’re at in maturity and in their areas of gifting is not a bad way to vet your leaders. Your leaders will find more energy and joy by serving in the way that suits them best. (Side note: Pat Lencioni and the Table Group have some great insights on team organization and how to help people find their fit!)

This is also an important part of protecting your ministry and the people it serves. Sometimes there are those who are eager to serve, but upon a closer look you may discover that they cannot (or should not) be trusted in certain areas. References can help with this, but discernment is also an important part of vetting your team well to ensure organizational health and a safe environment for your students, both leaders and participants.

2. Set your expectations clearly

One of the hardest things about taking on a new role is understanding what you’re responsible for. Being clear from the beginning about your expectations of your leaders as well as clarity on the responsibilities of their roles is essential. If people don’t know what they’re doing, things will get missed and you will more likely than not be the one holding the missed pieces at the end of the day.

You can clearly express your expectations of your leaders by drafting a values statement that outlines the values, mission, and purpose of your ministry and its organization. This not only communicates the expected values to your team but gives them a focus for their service and leadership.

A leadership covenant is another excellent way to clarify expectations. We do expect a lot from our leaders. We expect them to embody the values of the ministry and to live in a way that reflects the way of Jesus. Creating a leadership covenant is one way to demonstrate how important it is that your leaders understand these values and expectations and commit to embodying them. An agreement protects your team, your ministry, and the people you serve as it offers a basis for accountability.

3. Train effectively

Training effectively is not just about training your student leaders effectively but also making it effective for you and your staff team. If you’re individually training each of your small group leaders separately, then they’re not only likely to receive slightly different information each time, but you are not managing your own time well. Instead, set up group training sessions where they can all attend. If someone can’t make it, ask if they can join via Zoom. Make the most of your time, especially in busy launch seasons like the fall.

Also, review your training materials. Are you using the same information every year? When was the last time your training materials were updated? What changes to campus ministry need to be reflected in your training this year? Adjusting your materials to reflect the current needs of your students will help your leaders respond well and anticipate the students’ needs during the year.

One type of training that is very relevant to campus ministry teams today is mental health first aid. Our students are facing unprecedented levels of mental health struggles. Equipping your team well means equipping them to handle inevitably difficult situations such as a mental health crisis. Mental health first aid courses are often available online or in your local area. A quick Google search will help you discover your options.

4. Two-way Feedback

One effective way of refining what we do is two-way feedback. Checking in with your student leaders one-on-one to see how they’re doing is a critical part of caring for your team. This provides an opportunity for you to hear how things are going on the front lines—how is that small group going, how are the events coming together, are students responding to our invitations?

Your student leaders will have the pulse—and also the peer insight—of what is working well and what isn’t. During these check-ins, offer your students the chance to present their perspectives. They will feel valued when you make time for this because their perspective is valuable!

On the other side of the coin, these check-ins are also an opportunity for you to pass along feedback. Start with a positive of what your leader is doing an amazing job at! If there is any constructive criticism, frame it as an opportunity for growth and ask them how you can help them grow in this area. And finally, end with another positive.

5. Continue to invest!

Leadership isn’t a one-stop-shop of one time training and you’re done. Leadership is a lifelong process of learning, growing, refining, and sharpening. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “iron sharpens iron”. If the iron stops sharpening against another, what happens? It becomes dull and ineffective. The same can happen to leadership if it is not crafted and honed on a regular basis.

So, what does this look like with your team? It looks like ongoing opportunities for leadership development. Offer some specific short courses for those who want to learn how to mentor others. Teach that group who is really awesome at small groups how to draw people in even more. Team up with local partners such as church worship leaders who can disciple your musically gifted students to run worship nights. (We did this during the 2021/22 academic year and it was amazing to watch the students come together, receive some guidance and leadership, and then take total responsibility for our worship nights and steward it so well!)

Continue to pour into your team and draw out their leadership potential by showing you care about their development. This doesn’t have to be anything huge like a conference; even the small opportunities can have a big impact. What are some mid-year leadership development opportunities you can offer your student leaders?

What are your next steps?

What opportunities, training, or feedback do you need to provide to your team today? How can you better prepare your student leaders for their roles? Take a look at your organizational health and use some of the resources out there (like the Table Group) to help your team become the best place to lead and serve this year.

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