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Lessons on Developing Young Leaders: Four Keys Towards Innovation

A discussion with six Latin@ leaders on some practical ideas for and challenges faced in developing young leaders in the church.

growing a brighter future Rev Montes mural

Growing a Brighter Tomorrow in Gulfton,  2018,  Rahmaan Statik 

Throughout the years, I’ve found that a predominant topic of conversation among church leaders revolves around the need and desire to have young people be an integral part of our congregations and denominational work.[1] There is an interest in seeing young people develop as leaders in the church, but the question is, how? Six seasoned Latin@ leaders, whose congregations and parachurch groups are leadership incubators for the young people in their communities, shared with us four keys to doing so.

Developmental science and leadership studies show that for youth to develop as leaders, it is essential for them to have supportive and mentoring relationships with caring adults in their community, alongside of experiences and opportunities for involvement in hands-on activities that nurture their leadership abilities and interests.[2] In order to create such spaces, Positive Youth Development theory proposes that young people can and should be viewed as “assets to be developed, not problems to be managed”[3]. In many social settings, this suggests a radical change in adults’ perception of youth, their interactions with them, and the decision-making and contribution opportunities deemed as “appropriate” for young people to be involved with.

With these theoretical underpinnings in mind, our group discussed practical experiences, as well as some of the challenges faced in reaching these ideals where our churches and organizations foster shared decision-making processes, become spaces for youth to participate in meaningful ways, and shape an organizational culture that supports young people’s leadership development[4]. These four questions guided our conversation:

  • What can thoughtful ministry leaders do to shift perspectives about youth involvement? What practices sustain the change?
  • What does it take to make this shift not just by yourself, but with coworkers as well?
  • How can the crucial shift toward positive language still find room to talk about challenges, problems, and even sin?
  • What other areas of ministry can benefit from this same change in perspective?

Learn more about each of the four keys here:

Where do we go from here?

The conversation needs to continue, as we have only touched upon the tip of the iceberg. The How? question has more room for answers. The more we share our stories and experiences in ministry, the more we open up spaces for meaningful conversations – the more we are able to learn from one another and expand our imaginations and know-how in fostering innovation in the church. We welcome your comments and look forward to hearing your stories! What have you learned in your journey towards nurturing youth as leaders?

[1] Tamez Méndez, E. (2018). Leadership Development Among Youth in Latino Congregations: The Relationship of Religious Participation to Social Service Involvement and Engagement in Leadership Tasks (Doctoral dissertation, Andrews University).

[2] Klau, M., Boyd, S., & Luckow, L. (Eds.). (2006). Youth leadership (Vol. 109). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.   |   Murphy, S. E., & Reichard, R. (2011). Early development and leadership: Building the next generation of leaders. New York, NY: Routledge.

[3] Lerner, R. M., & Overton, W. F. (2008). Exemplifying the integrations of the relational developmental system: Synthesizing theory, research, and application to promote positive development and social justice. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23, 245–255.

[4] Tamez Méndez, E. (2017). Rethinking Latino youth ministry: Frameworks that provide roots and wings for our youth. Apuntes: Theological Reflections from the Hispanic-Latino Context, 37(2), 42–91.