A group photo from the 2016 LYF Teen Leadership training that took place March 17-20 in St. Louis, MO.
A group photo from the 2016 LYF Teen Leadership training that took place March 17-20 in St. Louis, Mo.

Over the last 38 years serving in LCMS Youth Ministry, I’ve spoken to and worked with thousands of teenagers (and that’s not just hyperbole).  I’ve worked with some amazing teens under the age of 19 who demonstrate awesome leadership qualities. Many have taken up professional church work, becoming pastors, DCE’s, classroom teachers and deaconesses.  Several have become professors at one of our universities and seminaries. And one was recently elected district president.

In March, we hosted our annual Lutheran Youth Fellowship teen leadership training, again an impressive group of teens from all over the country. And I got to thinking what makes them effective leaders. I discovered seven “senses” that our young leaders seem to hold in common.  I could write a chapter in a book about each of the seven, but, for blog purposes, I will stay with a sentence or two.

So, when it comes to youth as leaders, I would tell you that God has given them . . .

A SENSE OF BELONGING – For Christians, that sense comes at our baptism, when God claims us to be His own and brings us into His family. Our best teen leaders understand and celebrate that God has made them brothers and sisters in Christ.

A SENSE OF VOCATION – They know that God has made each unique and has a plan for their lives. Be it a future job, family, hobbies, faith God wants them to be fully engaged in what He has given them to do. God gives them a sense of purpose often in a variety of endeavors and relationships.

A SENSE OF MERCY AND SERVICE – Youth ministry is not just fun and games. The young leaders I have known love to serve and make a difference in the lives of those they serve. Their model is Jesus. Mercy is their byword. They genuinely care and live out their faith on mission trips, servant events, around the world and in their neighborhoods and families in which they live.

A SENSE OF HUMOR AND PLAYFULNESS – They like to have a good time and enjoy each other’s company. They laugh. They sing. There is a strong sense of joy knowing they are loved by God and each other.

A SENSE OF JUSTICE – When they see the biblical charge to care for the widowed, orphaned, downtrodden, and those in need, they know what God expects of them. They are devoted to fairness, fair play and expect that everyone is treated fairly.

A SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE – They are realistic. They know it is unlikely that they can solve the problems of the world. But they also know they can share the love of Jesus where they live and work and play. To be true to Jesus, their friend and Savior and to share Him in their lives – that is the challenge they strive to live for.

A SENSE OF IMAGINATION – We do a visioning process at our March meeting, and it is always impressive to hear the dreams our youth have for their lives, their families, the church, and the world. I’m reminded of the prophet’s words in the book of Joel, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions.” It’s always encouraging to hear their dreams and visions. They do have them – dreams and visions.

Our great challenge is the nurturing of these senses in our teens. And to do that makes sense – right? It makes sense.