Your campus will not be reached without a core group of empowered leaders taking bold steps of faith in unison. Building a core group of leaders presents many challenges since students often misunderstand their purpose and ministry leaders can use them for temporary relief instead of long-term gain.

After ten years of leading and observing college ministries there are three ways leadership positions are used:

As Carrots:

Pros: Motivates students to take initiative and pursue something valuable, draws people with natural leadership abilities.

Cons: Taps into performance mentality and compromises long-term fruitfulness. Sometimes drains the life and vitality out of leaders as they strive from their flesh more than depend and rest on the Spirit as their primary source of strength.

As Suckers:

Pros: You temporarily calm down an immature student 🙂 You temporarily fill a leadership hole. If you have recently started or if your ministry experienced a sharp decline, it’s tempting to place students that are not ready into roles–my experience has shown repeatedly that this strategy does not work.

Every leader is a culture setter, and when students who are not ready step into leadership roles they multiply their immaturity out into the rest of the ministry, and begin to gain a following of students who share their immaturities–it’s these sub-groups that cause severe disruption and often threaten to break up a ministry.

Cons: You temporarily calm down an immature student 🙂 You set a culture that rewards selfishness and repels students that have healthier motivations for leading as they look elsewhere to invest their time.

As Badges:

Pros: Rewards behavior that’s ALREADY happened. I love badges because they reward PAST action and there is some delay between the action and the reward. Especially in today’s instant-gratification culture students more than ever come into a ministry with a demanding attitude.

The successful ministries that I have observed spend time deliberating who should be on leadership and provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their abilities BEFORE they are given an official title.

Cons: Hardest to integrate into ministry culture. This process takes time, deliberation, forethought, and strategic planning. With high turnover rates of college ministry staff and students it’s extremely difficult to take this route.

However the long term rewards are tremendous: a healthy, mature leadership team, an overall culture is set by those whom you trust the most and have invested the most time, and a sturdy foundation to pioneer and step out in faith boldly for years to come.

Take the time to evaluate your process for selecting leaders this week. Take inventory of the current group of student leaders: how many are motivated by a carrot, sucker, or badge?

Brian Barela serves as the Director of New Media for Campus Crusade for Christ. Before that he spent seven years on campus, and was the first ministry in CCC to livestream their weekly meetings, and helped develop the paradigm for an integrated web presence that includes Facebook, SEO, Websites, and live-streaming. He blogs regularly heretweets here, and can be added as a friend on Facebook here.