principled (student) leadership

As you raise up student leaders, what are the non-negotiables for appointing someone as a leader?

It’s not as easy a question as it seems. And sure, you’re likely to go case-by-case, as potential leaders volunteer, apply, sign up, or however you appoint student leaders.

But the problem comes when you encounter a great student, an appealing student, a student who seems perfect for your leadership team. Or maybe it’s just a student you’ve known for a really long time, whom you’ve developed a true friendship with, who’s jumped through every hoop you put in front of them and is finally at the threshold of leadership.

Only (and here’s the “problem” part) there’s a hitch. Something about this student causes you to pause. And that’s when it will be helpful to have principles that transcend first impressions – or long-developed impressions.

For instance, if your ministry is part of a denomination (either within a church or otherwise), how “denominationally aligned” does a student need to be, in order to lead with your ministry? Can they attend a church of a different denomination… believe something different about one of the denominational tenets… actively practice their faith in a way that’s at odds with something the denomination follows?

(There’s no easy answer here. I’m not focused on Christian orthodoxy here – hopefully you wouldn’t raise up a heretic – but on the secondary, yet still very important, tenets that Christians differ on. How those play out within college ministry leadership differs from ministry to ministry.)

In the same way, what if there’s a longtime pillar of your particular college ministry – either in your doctrine or simply how you “do things” – that this student wavers on? What if her outlook on missions differs from yours, or he is a hard-charger on an area of faith that isn’t your ministry’s focus, or he never “got it” when it came to small groups?

I could ask a bunch more hypothetical questions, but the point is that you should be asking the questions, of yourself. At some point, you’ll need some principles that guide you in your student leadership choices, principles that go beyond recognition of great character, great skill, and great leadership potential. While some of those principles may form when you actually face these tough choices – and this is meant to encourage you in those moments – it’s worth giving yourself a head-start. Because when these kinds of principles are needed, they will be extremely hard to apply.

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