Why You Need to Stop (just) Giving Students Permission to Lead

It’s that time in the Student Work year when many of us are looking to release our new student leaders. We’ve spent the last term meeting them, getting to know them, discipling them and encouraging them to step up and serve. Now, whether it’s in a small group, or as a worship leader, or as part of our teams, we’re hoping they’ll catch the vision, realise their own calling and totally nail the whole leadership thing.

But what exactly is the leadership thing?

Do they know the answer to this question? Do we? Has our invitation to them to lead been full of vision, big ideas, Christian language but not a lot of specifics? They might have an inkling of how they’re meant to act as leaders but do they have a clear idea of what they’re meant to actually do?!

I’ve noticed a certain trend emerging in churches. I’ve heard many proclaim from pulpits and in leadership seminars the importance of having a "high-permission culture" where people are released to have a go at whatever they feel God has put on their heart to do. Part of me loves this idea - I really do think that people should be freed to experiment with what God is inspiring in them. But not everyone senses God inspiring them in this way. High permission culture isn’t all we need.

Many of the students we work with are brilliant, Jesus-loving, Spirit-filled disciples but they aren’t self-starters. They don’t necessarily have a massive vision that they’re desperate to pursue. But just because they’re not coming to you bursting with ideas doesn’t mean that they’re apathetic or disinterested. If they’re not looking to you for permission to do something, perhaps they need commissioning by you to do something instead.

We don't just need a high-permission culture, we need a high-commission culture

When Jesus first called the disciples into leadership, he didn’t tell them to just go and make disciples in some abstract, general, permission giving way. Neither did he wait for them to come to him and ask to be sent. Instead he initiated the invite and then gave them very specific instructions. At the start of Luke 9 and again in Luke 10, he tells the disciples where to go, what to do, what to take with them, even how to respond to different situations that might emerge. He briefs them clearly and debriefs with them too. The disciples' leadership journey began with a detailed idea of what was being asked of them. It was as they fulfilled set, specific tasks that the soon-to-be apostles developed their competence and self-confidence as leaders. 

If you’re looking around and wondering where all the leaders are at, or asking why people aren’t quite doing the roles you’ve asked them to do in the way you’d hoped they’d do them, stop thinking in terms of permission and instead think in terms of commission. Identify some specific tasks and instructions and invite your students to get involved. You never know, this might be the very thing that they need to help them discover the gifts and calling God has given them and become the leaders you are looking for.


Images from NeONBRAND and rawpixel

Michael Wadsworth

Fusion Training Developer

Michael develops Fusion’s internal and external training. He also studies Theology part time and is part of an experimental church plant in Derby.

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