Leadership Innovation Starts with Kids

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Developing a perpetual model of leadership coaching

Every leader and parent desires to see their kids in an active and vibrant relationship with God that shows itself in service to others as they mature. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This verse takes on a whole new meaning when faith is no longer the cultural default. As leaders we have an obligation to develop leadership capacity in our kids if they are to have what they need to impact culture for the Kingdom. We cannot be passive in preparing them for the difficult and complex path they will inevitably face in their time.

To do this, our kids must understand who they are and where they fit in the bigger body of Christ. As ministry leaders and parents this is our job. In my research I’ve concluded that for kids to develop they must have three interlocking components at work in their lives as they mature.

The first is intrinsic value. We are created in the image of a living God, dearly loved and accepted for who we are, but not left as we are. When our kids have a strong conviction of their giftings and identity in Christ, and learn to understand God’s voice and character, they are given both intrinsic value and transcendent purpose. The significance of this cannot be understated.

The second interlocking component is contribution. Contribution is offered out of a place of value and purpose, but value is also developed from a place of contribution. Kids are especially vulnerable in this area. Their contributions need to be received as valuable even if they are imperfect. This means that kids require a role of meaningful contribution in order to develop a healthy self-identity. This leads us to our third interlocking core element which is competency.

Competency is difficult to develop without contribution and understanding of intrinsic value. Contribution and value, when nurtured with intention in light of effort rather than outcome, allows competency to flourish. A child needs to know they are valued and that their unique contribution has significance before they’re able to hear constructive feedback as helpful instead of condemning. They need a context that allows them to learn, fail, evaluate, and practice giving and receiving constructive feedback.

By creating an intentional program of leadership coaching, our kids and youth can simultaneously develop these three components in preparation for lifestyle ministry. To clarify, preparing our kids for life in full-time church roles is not the goal. Lifestyle ministry is obedience to God in all areas of their lives regardless of the sphere of influence He has called them to function in. For some, that will be a church or missions role, but for many others it will be business, medicine, factory, or food that provides the mission field that God calls them to. Our focus now, creates Kingdom minded innovators with the competency to lead and grow.

Intentional development is most effective using coaching methods instead of teaching. It is nurturing kids in how to think, not what to think. It is letting them fail, and in some cases strategically and safely setting them up to do so. It is about nurturing self-awareness and encouraging responsibility. It is about helping them learn the voice of God in their lives. It is deeply relational and interactive. It is a consistent volume of time invested in showing instead of telling. It is:

  • Problem solving without rescue
  • Discussion without lectures
  • Responsibility without abandonment
  • Evaluation without condemnation
  • Relationship without strings
  • Practice without punishment
  • Hardship without condescension
  • Questions without answers
  • Truth without accusation

This seems like an impossible list, but I’ve found 6 key strategies to an effective leadership program that should be considered.

  • Experience vs. Information. School is designed to cram information into our kids’ heads and, for our boys especially, it is failing them. Experience is more effective in creating an opportunity for thinking, evaluation, self-awareness, and intentionality. We remember and learn from an experience more than information.
  • Coaching vs. Teaching. Refusing to be the answer person, challenging thinking, and allowing the natural process of cause and effect to rule in learning facilitates more connections in the learning process. Verbal instruction is passive. Real-time coaching through experiential activities is active. We need less adult talking, less explaining, and less teaching. Instead, the goal is more child evaluation, reflection, and exploring while adults guide discussion through strategic open-ended questions.
  • Intentional Practice vs. Perfectionism. Framing experiences in the context of what we learn versus the outcome of success or failure makes circumstances less black and white. This arrests perfectionism and instills hope in kids that their circumstances can always be improved upon.
  • Relational vs. Instructional. The power of any program is the strength of the relationships that are nurtured between adults and kids. If the focus is on information delivery, the child remains the student. If the focus is relational, the kids have an opportunity to bring insights and ideas that the adults can learn from. This requires an atmosphere of assessment that coaching methodology is key in creating.
  • Practical vs. Theoretical. Education is only as useful as our ability to implement it into real life. Effective leadership programs will revolve around real-life situations and learning. These opportunities should extend beyond the program and have a coach or mentor so that the support they receive in the program is felt in the real-work experience.
  • Long Term vs. Short Term. The best learning happens over time and through strong relationships. Long term mentoring relationships from ages 8-18 are the greatest gift we can give when coupled with a strategic program.

Any perpetual learning experience that adds layers of cognitive development as well as meaningful contribution will set our kids up to understand that they have a ministry role to play inside and outside the church. The great news is you do not have to invent the wheel.

As a program developer I have implemented these ideas into my own work and have seen incredible impact as students begin to form a foundation of value, contribution, and competency. You can check out thekindnessproject.ca/superhero for more on this public school workshop series. The expert in this area of experiential leadership training is Dr. Alan Nelson, author of KidLead (kidlead.com). His work embodies all of these items and provides leadership development resources for kids age 2-25. Lastly, one of my favorite resources for understanding our culture and what our kids need is Dr. Tim Elmore. His insights are practical and desperately needed as we teach our kids to navigate this very complicated and increasingly hostile world. (growingleaders.com)

In conclusion, our kids are inundated with facts from an early age, but we often fail to give them space to gain understanding and skill as the pressures of financial strain, post-secondary options, and the future looms like a tyrant over the parenting strategies of the families we work with. The resources are readily available—tested and effective. Use them, find another, create your own, but whatever you do, do not neglect or delay in developing your young leaders.










About the Author

Nicki's passion and energy are contagious as she brings over 20 years of kids ministry experience to the table. From humble beginnings working with travelling clown and drama teams as a young teen, Nicki has worked with kids and youth in nearly every context. She has been instrumental in the introduction of KidLead to Canada, and regularly runs clubs, trains leaders and trains trainers to develop young leaders nationwide. Nicki believes that kids in ministry become adults in ministry and believes her destiny lies in helping kids young and old understand and walk in the revelation of who they are in Christ. She is a curriculum writer and program developer with a heart to teach kids how to think and live their lives with Kingdom perspective and Holy Spirit anointing. She is currently the children's pastor at Freedom House in Brantford, Ontario where she hosts her own kids club the L.A.F.F Academy. She is a regular contributing writer for www.kidology.org and a Lead Trainer for KidLead. She lives with her husband and two beautiful children in Brantford, City of God!