Posted by: Brandon | November 2, 2009

How Do You Choose Student Leaders? part 2

Last week, Justin introduced the first part of How Do You Choose Student Leaders?

The story of leadership at the Christian Campus House at Northwest Missouri State University, where I serve, is a work in progress. We have gone through many course corrections and adjustments over the last several years. This year, though, we decided it was time for a massive overhaul on how we chose and train our student leaders.

Here is the story so far.


One of my early struggles in leadership development was determining what I found more advantageous: a student with strong natural leadership abilities or a student with a willing heart, although perhaps not the strongest leadership gifting? (You can see my original musings on this here and here.)

I decided I wanted both on my leadership team. And so, I needed to attract both.

I personally asked those students with a strong natural leadership ability to pray and seek God’s will for them concerning joining our leadership team. These students, because they have such strong leadership capabilities, are probably highly involved in lots of activities and organizations. I wanted them to consider using those gifts for the Kingdom, which is of infinitely more value.

Then, in order to discover which students have a willingness to lead, but perhaps have not developed those leadership skills, I publicly invited interested students to join us. I only had one requirement: that they be second year students within our ministry.


We gathered all of our new potential leaders on a Sunday evening in September. The purpose of our meeting was to share expectations. A basic rule of leadership is to have high expectations and to make them known up front. We had short-term and long-term expectations.

Short-term expectations:

  • You will be at each of the leadership training sessions for the next 7 weeks.
  • You wil participate and be engaged in our discussions.
  • You will have all of the assigned work done. (Each week we had a packet of “homework” materials from the book “Leadership Essentials” by Greg Ogden. The assignments included in-depth Bible studies, discussion questions, and memorization.)

Long-term expectations:

  • If chosen to be a leader, you will make a 1 year long commitment to leading.
  • You will serve at CCH requiring an average of 10-12 hours per week.
  • You will lead a specific area of ministry within CCH.
  • You will meet weekly with a staff member for accountability and discipleship.
  • You will also meet weekly with (at least) one younger student for the purpose of accountability and discipleship.
  • You will be attend all CCH meetings, leadership meetings, and events (retreats, mission trips, etc.)

We realize these are steep expectations. Honestly, they were designed to test the commitment of each potential leader. We knew some students wouldn’t want to make these commitments and would bail. And we were OK with that. We wanted only the students willing to make and follow through with their commitment to be on the team.


After our initial informational meeting, we agreed to meet the following week. Those who were willing to make the commitment came back. Those who didn’t want to had our permission to bail.

And we lost a few after that first week. We figured that would happen. But, as the quantity of leaders went down, the quality of leaders went up.

And then, we embarked upon a process of training these potential leaders. As I mentioned earlier, we some of the elements of Greg Ogden’s workbook, “Leadership Essentials.” These packets laid the groundwork for some of the characteristics and qualities we want to see in our student leaders, such as humility, a commitment to spiritual disciplines, and so forth.

We spent some time discussing spiritual gifts and administering spiritual gifts analyses. We also talked about the history and vision and core values of our ministry. We want everyone to be on the same page as to why we, as a ministry, exist.

At the end of our 7 weeks of training, we had two handfuls of students who had put forth their time, effort, and energy into growing as leaders of our ministry. They are all on board with our ministry’s vision and values. They are primed for what is next.


And what is next is the part of the story that remains to be written. We have finished up our training just one week ago and are now in the process of meeting and praying with our new student leaders as we discern where God can be use them within our ministry. Once we have navigated through this process, we will turn our new student leaders loose to lead.



  1. What do you do to hold your student leaders to that standard? What if they don’t ever get around to picking out a student to mentor? how do you ensure those standards are met?

    • Jake,

      While we are still very much in process with this, we are hoping that these kinds of issues can be addressed when each student leader meets with a staff member. The staff will ask the leaders how things are going, how their discipleship efforts are progressing, and things like this.

      That’s the idea, anyway.

  2. I can definitely see benefits to the ministry itself by employing this kind of a method. But personally; I’d be a bit concerned about other students who might have a desire, or some kind of a calling towards some kind of leadership, but due to whatever reasons wouldn’t be able to hold to such an extreme form of rigorous leadership, or perhaps were not ready yet to do so. I was wondering if you think that having lesser leadership roles available might help those kinds of people? How would you implement something like that? Because I’d like to have dedicated leaders as well, but I can already tell you that some of the kids I work with wouldn’t be able to attend everything I’d have due to sports conflicts, or the fact that they come from very poor families that couldn’t afford to do all the extra stuff. And I don’t doubt there are students at CCH that face the same kinds of issues too.

  3. I’m a big fan of high commitment requirements for student leaders, too, and that was definitely the culture that many ministries had built when I attended Texas A&M. BUT a word for those working new on this: You might have to move the group toward a culture that supports this kind of high commitment. I would consider raising the bar gradually or at least implementing the kind of “warm up period” that Brandon did with the 7-week training.

    (This is NOT to say you should lower the bar on spiritual qualifications for your leaders. In fact, a high bar there will help you be able to raise the commitment bar ultimately, too.)

    You have to have students who REALLY believe in you (the leader), and they still might have to be “warmed up” to the idea of high commitment over time. Because you don’t just want students to make the commitment (that may or may not be difficult – for many students, a call for super-high commitment is appealing), you want them to keep the commitment.

    Notice that many of their activities on campus – like Student Government or the Greek System – might call for even more involvement. But they’ve gotten things to the point where it’s expected and normal. For nearly all our students, involvement in ministry and high commitment haven’t generally been “packaged together.” Teaching them that this is NORMAL may take time.

  4. Benson-

    I love your thoughts on this man. So good. I really feel like this is what has happened in our ministry over the last few years. This is my third year here, and i have really tried to “amp up” the commitment level and what it means to be a leader…and it really seems to be working. The group of leaders that we have in place this year is great…and their commitment level is way above what we had two years ago…and definitely a step above last years group. And it is my hope that this is a microcosm of what is to come and of the culture that we are in the process of creating.


    for us, as far as asking them to be at things…we have taken an approach that is a little less strict. We strongly ask that they be at most things…but understand that they probably, for a number of different reasons…can’t be at everything. We try to cast the vision for the importance of their being there while also giving them the responsibility to make the final decision.

  5. I feel as though I should clarify something.

    Our campus ministry is a place of grace. We do have high expectations, and we want students to rise to them, but we are also understanding.

    Reading back over my post made me realize I sound kind of like a dictator. I’m not, but I have learned that if you are not INCREDIBLY CLEAR about your expectations, students get frustrated and staff gets disappointed.

  6. I love this discussion!

    we’ve tinkered with our leadership process over the years, and one thing we’ve used from time to time has helped draw in the students who have leadership abilities but can’t or aren’t ready to make the commitment of a CSF leader. We’ve created a “catalyst community” that may meet monthly or a couple times a semester….It’s open to all students, and we use the opportunity to do a few things:

    1. Re-cast the vision and mission of CSF
    2. Re-introduce the areas of ministry we feel like God is directing us in (these are led by our leaders)
    3. Present opportunities for other students to get involved with one of these areas or a specific event.

    If, say, 25 students show up at our Catalyst Community, we do the first 2 things above, and then break them up into groups based on the areas of ministry they’re interested in (planning service opportunities, outreach events, men’s ministry, etc).

    Note, this works best if we’re willing to really give them freedom to dream big and the accountability and tools to accomplish the goals. Our leaders get to see which students God might be raising up and need investing in, and we also get to “test-drive” potential student leaders and see how responsible/reliable/etc. they are in a team or leadership role.

    We used this method for about a year when our leadership structure kind of fell apart. It helped give students the vision and the opportunity to get involved, and helped us identify potential leaders.

    Jake –
    this semester we’re having to hold a couple of leaders by the hand and give them assignments like, “do SOMETHING this week with a newer student….go out to eat, give him a ride to our service event, invite him to play video games”.

    I remember Sam Brunsvold, saying that he gave his leaders specific requirements like “call or email every small group member 1x/week”, have a one on one with every small group member 1x/semester”. We haven’t gone that far, but sometimes our leaders require more accountability to do that. If they/we don’t, the result is the leadership structure break-down we experienced a few years ago when an entire class of students seem to slip out the backdoor of our ministry.

  7. Gretchen…I LOVE the idea of a Catalyst Community!

    One thing we have picked up working with our church partner here in Boston is a Leadership Community. Once a month we gather all of the leaders just to celebrate, recast or cast vision, and sometimes teach a general skill…

    The idea of having a Catalyst Community where new people can share ideas, hear the vision, and take responsibility for seeing it through is great…

  8. Here in Charlotte we call our catalyst community “Leadership Roundtable”. We meet 3 times a semester. Once at the beginning to lay out the expectations, talk about the work that needs to be done, and cast vision for the following semester. We then meet half way through the semester to remind, remind, remind. Remember why you’re a leader, what that means, what that looks like and a reminder of our vision. And then we’ll meet at the end of the semester to look back, discussion what worked and what didn’t. We’ll talk about all the life change that we saw.

    I love this idea because it reminds our leaders that they’re not alone. They’re not leading all by themselves. Leadership is a community thing. We never allow students to lead alone. We lead in teams and those teams make up a larger team.

    High expectations + large amounts of grace = leads to great conversations and learning moments for our leaders.

    Here in Charlotte we’ve also put in a process of determining our leaders. A sophomore is an apprentice to an upper classman. We want to give them time to get their feet wet. Learn from someone. And then by the end of the year they start leading.

    This is our process for the leader/apprentices relationship:
    1. I do you watch
    2. I do you help
    3. You do I help
    4. You do I watch
    5. You do and someone else watches

    This blog is creating so many great discussion! Awesome! Thanks Tim for casting this vision!!!

  9. […] Justin and Brandon have written some great thoughts in the previous two weeks and was expanded by Brian Barela, […]

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