No Summer Vacation From Leadership Development

Seize the summer to train kid leaders

Leadership Development - Kids //

During the school year, many leader type kids are consumed with activities.  As we’ve introduced our executive caliber leadership training curriculum to schools, many of them state the challenge of wedging one more program into the lives of these over-achieving students. This is frequently the case of kids whom God has wired to influence socially, as they tend to be project oriented and busy in activities, in addition to school. That’s why summer break is often a great time to do leadership development.

Take advantage of the summer months when there is reduced competition for a young leader’s life. Develop your staff for programs such as VBS and Sunday school, when adults are either on vacation or just need a respite from ministry.  Let me describe a way to create your own leadership development program that fits a summer agenda.

First, put together a crackerjack team of leadership development adults. As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, don’t think you have to add one more thing to an over-burdened staff of volunteers. Find a few individuals who are themselves leaders, who like preteens and who have the bandwidth to make time in their schedule, so long as they know it’s with a hand-selected group of young leaders. Recruit the best, not just the available.

Second, hand select the young leaders. Again, we’ve discussed this in earlier columns, but do NOT do a “ya’ll come,” warm-body invitation for workers. You’re not interested in older child volunteers. You are striving to identify the 10-20 percent who have a significantly higher amount of social influence. If you’re unsure of who these are, ask your staff or fill out Social Influence Surveys that are available free online at You’ll want to click the “Parent” button so you get to see the results. You’re looking for those who rate a 3.5 or higher on the 5-point scale. If you need to, you can dip down to a 3.0 and above, but don’t go lower. Those demonstrating aptitude are the ones who’ll benefit from this type of training.

Third, create a summer camp or club that provides a fun, creative means to intentionally develop the leadership potential of these hand-selected preteens.  You can include teens if you want, but obviously you’ll want to do the same selection process with the youth ministry director. Don’t worry about commingling ages 8-18, so long as there’s good adult coaching and you provide opportunities for all ages to take turns in team leading. Leader types tend to respect each other and younger ones will learn faster when observing older colleagues.

Here’s what your homegrown, leadership training program looks like. This is not a Bible study or discipleship program. You can do those on the side, but call this what it is—leadership—and don’t compromise. You’ll want to make this active learning, meaning they’ll learn best by doing, not sitting around talking about leadership or worse, hearing you or someone else talk about leading.

Plan activities that can or must be done in teams. Many children and youth ministry books include these types of activities. Select a variety, such as cognitive (thinking), micro-mother skills (i.e. crafts) and macro-motor skills (athletics, relays). The combination of types engages various learning styles, as well as requiring varying approaches to leading.

For example, let’s take “The Price is Right” game show, a cognitive type of activity. Divide the group into teams of 4-6 students. Designate one student as the team leader. (I’d recommend calling everyone a leader in the group, because if you’ve selected well, they all are.) A team leader is the designated person who will help the team work together in a specific task or activity. Pre-select five items: such as a can opener, a watch, a box of pasta, a laptop computer, and a mountain bike. You’ve placed the retail price of each item on a 3” x 5” card, turned over so no one can see it. You give each team five of their own cards and a marker. There will be five rounds.  Each round, the team leader’s job is to help the team come up with a single price estimate for the item, in less than 30 seconds. Then, the team leader picks someone to stand up and present their team’s price after the time is up. The team that comes up with the amount closest to the actual price, without going over, wins 1000 points.

At the end of the activity, discuss these questions in teams, facilitated with an adult coach who is designated to work with the team.

  1. How did the team leader help us work together to accomplish the task?
  2. What is difficult about handling differing opinions when leading a team?
  3. How do you come up with the best idea, even when people disagree?
  4. If you were the team leader in this activity next time, how might you lead differently, either based on your personality or what you know about this game?

The primary goal in these activities is to let the team leader actually lead the team, not just take commands from an adult coach. By doing this over and over, a student with aptitude will quickly learn valuable lessons on how to lead others.

The role of the adult coach is neither to tell the leader what to do, nor to lead the team.  Rather, the coach is merely observing the team and how it’s functioning, and then actively (although quietly) asking strategic questions that will enable the team leader to think more like a leader. For example, if the coach sees two of the team members talking to each other or looking around, she should not say, “Hey you girls, pay attention.” Rather, the coach can whisper to the team leader, “Jesse, are all of your team members paying attention to you?” Instead of saying, “Jesse, you only have 30 seconds left,” she might whisper, “Jesse, do you know how much time you have left?”

A Socratic teaching approach only works if you’ve selected kids with higher leadership aptitude. We’ve found that even when you tell those with low aptitude what to do, they don’t know how to do it and it taxes their self-esteem, which we don’t want to do in ministry. We want to affirm a child’s strength. When gifted in leading, we can raise the bar of expectations and require a different methodology for teaching.

Come up with a few hours of activities like these, where you get together for 1-2 hours per day and provide opportunities for each leader to be a team leader, several times. Provide feedback, not just doing the activities and then moving on without reflecting. After half a dozen of these simulated training meetings, take this group of leaders and unleash them into real world situations with their peers or younger kids, in programs such as VBS, summer camps, or community service projects. Either you or a designated adult leader should TBWA (Train By Walking Around). Observe how they’re doing and whisper questions, ideas, and affirmations. Then debrief at the end. This is powerful leadership training. The result is that you’ll be accomplishing two things at the same time: You’ll be training young leaders and you’ll be accomplishing whatever other project you are doing. That’s good stewardship of your summer program, multi-tasking God style.





About the Author

Alan E. Nelson, EdD is a lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School and founder of KidLead Inc., ( He lives in Monterey, CA with his family and has pastored for over 20 years.