Skip to main content

There’s a reason we get up every morning. There’s a reason we spend our time with 20 year olds. We all desperately want to see students on our college campuses become sincere followers of Jesus. We long for God to do an incredible work in our local context. To quote the Apostle Paul, “to this end we toil and strive..”

We all have the same goal, to help raise up a generation that is passionately devoted to following Jesus and telling others about Him.

In the past few years, God has given me a perspective on how this can become more and more a reality. I live in a small college town where the college campus only has around 13,000 students. Yet, I am constantly aware of my lack of ability to reach the entire student body by myself. No matter how long or hard I work, I can not reach everyone. We are all familiar with this. The answer to this dilemma is raising up student leaders.

In the last few years, the phrase “leadership team” has become a cool catchphrase for college ministries. It’s become so catchy that it’s possible that leaders have developed an aversion towards creating a leadership team. I understand leaders having some confusion regarding the subject. I’d love to share a few things that I’ve learned over the last few years from starting and building a leadership team. My hope is that I’m able to provide some practical advice for those who are contemplating starting their own leadership team.

Step #1: Realize that your students want to help

I’ve come to realize students have a greater desire to lead than we give them credit for. They want to be given opportunities to lead their peers, they just need some coaching. I believe we have settled for mediocrity with our students instead of pushing them to become high level leaders. Your students want to help your local ministry reach the local college campus.

Step #2: Look for students who are bought in to your local ministry

When you are first establishing your leadership team, look for students who are already bought into what your local ministry is doing. These are the students who are willing to help. Often they are already consistent in attending your gatherings. Do not necessarily add someone to your leadership team based upon potential. Look for servant leaders who are willing to be a part of a team. You’re not looking for All-Stars, but role players.

Step #3: Interview your candidates

One of my favorite things that we do is interview new candidates for our student leadership team. After they have filled out an application, I get the opportunity to sit down with them and hear their story. During this meeting I’m able to share the vision behind our leadership team.

Here are some of the questions I ask in our leadership interviews:

  • Name, Major, Hobbies, etc…
  • When did you begin to have a relationship with God?
  • What are your spheres of influences?
  • How does someone begin to have a relationship with God?
  • What are some things that you are dreaming about with God?

This interview process allows me to clearly articulate the mission and vision of not only our leadership team, but our entire college ministry.

Step #4: Teach Leadership

Once you have gathered a team, one of the first things you have to do is create a leadership culture. I believe that too often in life our students have been asked to be leaders (whether in church or in the secular world) and have never been taught how to be leaders. We can not label our students as leaders and forget to train them.

Leadership is primarily learned in two different ways:

  • Doctrinal Teaching
  • Practical Application

Be careful to teach leadership to your students in both ways.

When it comes to creating a leadership culture, remember that culture is created by the stories we tell and the language we use. If you want to create a culture of reaching and discipling students on campus, tell stories of what God is doing on campus. Your students will become excited by seeing God at work and they will want to join in and help. You will develop a leadership culture when your student leaders begin to share stories.

Step #5: Challenge your leaders 

Students want to help accomplish the mission and goal of your local ministry, they just need some direction. They are waiting for you to tell them what to do and how to accomplish it.

When you give a task, help your students understand how to accomplish it. This is one of the mistakes I made in my ministry. I was able to cast vision and gave assignments, but never showed them how to accomplish the task at hand. I simply assumed that they would be able to understand how to perform the task. When students are learning how to be leaders, they need to be led to the water in order for them to drink from it.

Step #6: Coach your leaders

In many ways, as a ministry leader, you are their leadership coach. As they go onto campus and execute the assignments that they have received, they will need coaching after the fact. If we do not coach them, they will not grow as leaders.

If we want to develop high level leaders, we have to be sure and coach entry level leaders.

Step #7: Be Consistent

Keep developing leaders. Keep giving assignments. Eventually they will need less and less direction. Soon your entry level leaders will develop into high level leaders. Trust the process. Trust the Lord to the sanctifying work in their life. Your job is to be faithful to them.

To develop high level leaders you need to do two things:

  • Have a high level of investment in their lives
  • Challenge them

If students know that you love them deeply, they will allow you to challenge them in uncomfortable, yet formative ways.

Perhaps you think that I am missing one crucial step, and you would be correct. The most vital step in this process is prayer. We must be leaders who are praying for our young student leaders. From the beginning of the process to the end, we have to be interceding for the growth and sanctification of our students. This is crucial and non-negotiable, yet often forgotten. At times, I’ve forgotten this step myself and have found myself frustrated with my students as a result. Only in prayer do we understand the bigger picture of what God is doing in the lives of our students. If we forget to pray, we will view our students as our workers, not as young leaders that God is shaping and molding in due season.

7 Steps of Starting a Leadership Team:

  1. Realize your students want to help
  2. Look for students who are bought into your local ministry
  3. Interview your candidates
  4. Teach leadership
  5. Challenge your leaders
  6. Coach your leaders
  7. Be Consistent

If you are hesitant to start a leadership team, I encourage you to invest in one. Your students want to join the mission of reaching and developing students to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives. I believe that you will be surprised by how much excitement and enthusiasm they will bring.


  • Doug says:

    What are some of the resources you utilize most frequently in step 4?

  • John James says:


    It is very situational. We provide monthly leadership training at our meetings. This serves as our lecture-based leadership training. We have utilized different voices in our congregation to teach leadership during our monthly meetings. We cover numerous topics but base everything around intentional living.

    We give jobs out to students in one on one meetings. This serves as our hands-on leadership training. These jobs can be anything from outreach in their spheres of influence, passing out coffee, running a life group, helping us host events, etc…

    Hope this helps.