Give it Away!


By Marty Estes

“I don’t know if I can do this…”

I was looking into the eyes of a 15-year-old boy, moments before he was supposed to walk on stage and open our Wednesday night student worship service with a welcome and announcements. His response was understandable. I’d only asked him to do it 30 minutes earlier, and he had never been on stage before; but I reassured him as best I could.

“Sure you can! You’ll do great! I trust you.”

So, how did he do? Not great. He clung to the microphone stand like it was his lifeline in the midst of raging floodwaters. He basically read our announcements off the screen. He stumbled offstage and had a good laugh at himself along with the rest of our students. But, he did it. And this week he will do it again. Next week he’ll do it again. And again, and again, as long as he is willing to serve.

15 years into ministry, I’m relearning something that I once heard, long ago, when I was serving as a volunteer in a local church, something that was said in a class I took on youth ministry as I was finishing up my time in college: “Youth ministry happens when youth minister.” It was catchy. Pithy. Inspiring. I’d love to tell you that my time in ministry over the last decade and a half has been categorized by that statement, but I’d be lying to you. Mostly, my call to ministry has been defined by a consolidation of power at the top, and if most student ministries were honest, they would have to report the same.

That’s why I have a mandate for us today, brothers and sisters. A call to arms, if you will. Much like the great theologians Red Hot Chili Peppers once sang, give it away, give it away, give it away now! Give your power away. Give your leadership away. Give control away to students who are more than capable to pick up the mantle of leadership, even if they don’t know it, and watch as future leaders of the church are called out.

Currently, we have students leading in our weekly gatherings doing everything from announcements to leading small groups, leading in praise band to leading the game time. They serve on Sundays in our children’s ministry worship time. They work throughout the church as ushers and serve in mission ministries. There comes a point in time where faith moves from things we know and believe to things we do BECAUSE we believe. Student ministry is a key time for that.

But, let’s be real. It’s easy to do it all ourselves. There’s lots of reasons why we should do it ourselves, honestly. Students can be notoriously flighty and non-committal. They can mess up, say things they shouldn’t, and otherwise “ruin” a segment of our program. They can even sometimes end up doing it BETTER than us, but we may not be ready to admit that yet. For those reasons, and many others, it’s easier to just keep it all to ourselves. When we do this, however, we are missing a huge blessing, and denying Kingdom work and Kingdom growth in the lives of our students!

Now, I’m not saying you should simply turn your Wednesday or Sunday program over to your students completely, and just allow them to do whatever they want. What I AM suggesting, though, is that you take a long look at your programming and identify the places where students could take the reigns and lead, and then let them off the leash. Are they going to fail? YES. Are they going to be awkward? YES. But, what you might just find is that they succeed in ways you never imagined, and your ministry will be all the better for it.