In my almost 25 years in Christian education, I have never encountered a group of students like the ones we have the privilege of serving today.

They are brave yet fearful. They are thoughtful yet guarded. They are entrepreneurs yet oftentimes struggle to get started. They are filled with hope yet pensive about the future.

They are our students, and we get the privilege of serving them. Guiding them. Giving them hope. Showing them the way. That’s what an educator’s influence is all about– developing student leaders. But in our relentless pursuit of educational excellence, student leadership development is often placed on the back burner.

We don’t have time. Other priorities get in the way. There’s no way to fit it into an already-packed educational schedule. Students aren’t interested anyway.

In light of these often-mentioned statements, let’s ponder the question, “Does student leadership development matter?” Before answering this question, let’s think about our Christian schools. In our mission statements, most indicate we are “training Christian leaders who will engage the culture.” If this type of focus is important enough to place in a mission statement, shouldn’t it be important enough to ensure we are as intentional about student leadership development as we are about math, science, language arts, performing and fine arts, athletics, etc.?

But we don’t just want to develop leaders. We want to develop servant leaders.

How do we approach it? First, let’s look at who we are serving. In a recent Barna study, The Open Generation, they conducted almost 25,000 surveys with respondents ages 13-17 across 26 countries. Their findings gave us incredible insight into this generation of students.

To summarize, students want to have relationships with those they are learning from. While we might incorrectly assume they are most influenced and impacted by social media that isn’t true. Relationships and the absolute truth found in God’s Word are what they desire as they learn about Jesus. The power of an educator’s influence.

They desire to be on mission and reflect Jesus through their words and actions. They have a strong sense of purpose and see God’s hand in designing them with a unique calling on their lives. They believe they can and desire to tenaciously pursue solving the injustices in society. These are our students, and this is the time to be proactively involved with this generation, equipping them to assume responsibility in leadership. The power of an educator’s influence.

This generation is already desiring to do something beyond themselves. Our role is to inspire them, influence them, equip them, trust them, listen to them and learn from them. The power of an educator’s influence.

But if we choose to continue to focus on other things, placing student leadership development on the back burner or on an “as we have time” basis, if we fail to develop servant leaders, they will lead anyway. But instead of seeing our students make a meaningful impact on their culture, we will be surrounded by students thrust into leadership who are unprepared to face the challenges, obstacles, and daunting tasks required of them. All because we have failed to equip them with the skills and wisdom needed to lead from a growth mindset, a biblical worldview, and a tenacious sense of purpose.

As educators, we desire to make a difference in the lives of our students. If we didn’t, we would find other vocations. Yet, God has called us to serve here, for such a time as this. He has called us to develop student leaders who, at their very core, embrace servant leadership as defined by Mark 10:45, For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Before we go any further, I must ask…are you ready? Are you ready to place student servant leadership as a priority? I assume you said yes, so let’s look at what will be required from us to develop student servant leaders.

As we work toward developing a leadership culture, we must position students to experience failure and then be willing to walk them through that failure. When we allow them to fail and then walk with them through it, we create a Culture of Trust. The three most powerful words you can say to your students is, “I trust you.”

When we trust our students, it will lead to them joining us, with the utmost enthusiasm, in the now joint goal of making our school a powerhouse for impacting the culture. When a student is on fire, no one can stop them. There is a contagious spark that only they can ignite and once ignited, it is unquenchable. This is why developing a Culture of Trust is so important.

The second thing we must do to develop student servant leaders is provide leadership development opportunities. There is a vast difference between assigning tasks to be completed and positioning students with leadership development opportunities.

Leadership is hard and for most people, it will not come naturally. But we have the most amazing model of leadership development through watching how Jesus mentored and positioned his disciples to lead.

If our students are going to lead with intentionality and purpose, if they are going to make a cultural impact, and if they are going to have the mental tenacity and grit required to lead well, we must prioritize the development of servant leadership. At its core, servant leadership has four biblical principles:

  1. Abiding in Christ   
  2. Engaging the Culture   
  3. Serving Others, Not Self   
  4. Serving in a Local Church.   

If we want to develop servant leaders, we must teach them how to incorporate and develop these four core principles in their leadership development journey.

The third thing we must do if we desire to develop student leaders is generate unity. While this one seems an odd one to add as a best practice for developing student leadership, trust me— You will need to have a laser-like focus on this one. As you begin to gain momentum, and you will, the first attack will come against unity.   

Why? Because you have young leaders who are getting a taste of what it feels like to lead… what it feels like to engage the culture, and it’s life-changing. They are going to see lives change. They are going to make a difference. And then the inner battles and vying for position begin, and as soon as they do, unity is at risk. Divisiveness is your worst enemy, especially division from within.

One of the toughest things for organizations to accomplish is to get people to set aside personal differences and work for the good of everyone involved. Your task is to assemble the best team possible, train them, and then figure out the best way to get a group of diverse people, all with different goals and mindsets, to work together to achieve a common goal.

This is what unity looks like.

Did you ever meet a person that changes the way you look at the world? Who inspires you to be a better version of yourself? I have. And quite a few of them were my students. Those who were leading with a life devoted to Jesus and a mindset determined to make a difference.

Jesus modeled a life of servant leadership that persevered with joy in the face of hostility, rejection, and opposition to His life and message. Followers of Jesus are called to endure and remain steadfast, knowing that the Lord is coming and that He will make all things right.

With eyes fixed on Jesus, the servant leader patiently, faithfully and willingly endures hardships, knowing that suffering for Christ produces spiritual maturity, is a mark of worthy obedience, and is experienced by the body of Christ throughout the world.   

What if education changed to match the needs of our world? I am not just talking about the 7-3 school day. What if the way we teach our students changed to meet the needs of our world? What if our main goal as Christian educators was to use our Godly wisdom and influence to develop servant leaders? Students don’t need us for information, they need us for Godly wisdom and Christ-like influence. Let’s use our influence to develop student leaders who will transform this world for Jesus.   

Does student leadership development matter? I’d say it most certainly does.  



About the Author 

Emily Pigott began her educational journey in 1999 at South Florida Christian Academy (SFCA) and served there for 20 years as a teacher and high school principal. It was during her time at SFCA that she began her student leadership development journey.    

Pigott co-founded the Student Leadership Academy at SFCA with the purpose of training and developing student leaders who would go out and have a cultural impact. They wanted students to fully understand what it means to lead with a service-oriented mindset, so they were ready to engage the culture when they left the school’s four walls. That is where her love for student leadership really began- she could see the transformative difference it made in students’ lives.  

Later, she had the opportunity to serve at Student Leadership University (SLU) as their executive director. Pigott traveled globally conducting student leadership development in the Middle East, Israel, Bethlehem, the Golan Heights, Europe, and everywhere in between. While at SLU, she co-authored an eight-semester leadership development curriculum.   

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