What’s a really bad decision you’ve made? We’ve all made them, after all. One of the worst leadership decisions that I’ve ever made was when I wrongly believed that the best way for me to lead people was to stay away from them. Really. As a fresh youth pastor, I had this idea that I would do a great job by never spending time with the kids and only preaching at them. 

Today, I thank God for His grace and for my pastors giving me time to develop and grow in my calling. I also thank John Maxwell for his amazing 5 Levels of Leadership teaching, which showed me that the gap between positional leadership and permissional leadership is a great one, and it’s only crossable by way of relationship. The decision of that bad leadership style between the ages of 20-22 years old cost me perhaps five years or more worth of momentum. But hey, you live, and you learn! 

Life has a way of giving us endless regret and deep grief when we look back and see where this went wrong and that went wrong. Decisions are a part of leadership, and while some are good and some are bad, some have the potential to be life-altering, and even ministry-altering over the course of the life of your ministry. For better or for worse, some decisions can change the entire trajectory of your church. 

While it can be easy to gravitate in memory toward negative decisions, it’s important to remember good decisions and celebrate the wins. What went RIGHT? Whenever I look over my tenure as a local church youth pastor, several things went right, but I have no doubt in my mind that the greatest decision I ever made was the decision to develop young people in Christ by starting our River Student Internship. 

When I was a teenager in youth group, I couldn’t wait to graduate high school to attend an on-site internship for young adults at a large church in a neighboring state. I knew I had a call of God on my life, but I didn’t sense the capacity or opportunity to be able to explore it and grow into that calling in my local church. I remember my pastor telling me that he could see me coming back from my internship to start an internship at our church. I was so excited. After graduating my internship, moving back home to Searcy, Arkansas, and taking over the youth ministry, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to launch something similar for our young people. But, I just had a few problems. 

For starters, we didn’t have the money to hire staff to lead it. Secondly, we didn’t have the budget to promote it. And last, but certainly not the least of problems, we didn’t have any college-aged students that wanted to do it. That’s a pretty big problem. 

That said, I’ve always been a big believer in making the best of what’s in your hand. And all that I had in my hand year one was seven interested high school kids and an open summer. So, seven years ago, we launched our first ever River Student High School Internship. The concept was simple – take a group of hungry students, meet with them for in-depth Bible study and corporate prayer, take them on an outreach, teach them to serve, and mentor them in character, all the while. So, we did just that! 

We met two days a week, and 8 weeks later, we had a core group of committed youth that were equipped and ready to help us grow our youth ministry. And grow, it did. These students continued to read their Bible and pray daily as they started to invite other teens to our monthly United Nights. And out of these United Nights, we recruited more students for our second and third year summer internships. 

Eventually, our youth group began to meet for corporate prayer on a weekly basis, and we wound up with a group of interns that formed our young adult leadership team that placed the final piece of campus clubs in the youth ministry puzzle. The youth group was booming, because God was moving. I knew we’d made a right decision. However, I didn’t know as a young mid-20’s youth pastor just how RIGHT that decision was.

You see, now, at almost 30 years old, and as an associate pastor at my home church, I’ve seen so much. People have come; people have gone. Trends have blown in and blown out, and God has shifted mine and Evelyn’s hearts toward the greater Church as a whole and changed our focus as our own seasons have changed. But, in and out of season, the fruit of the high school internship has remained. 

Many of these former summer interns have grown up, married and even begun to have children! Many of them are our current church leaders today. They do everything at The River from leading the worship and running the cameras to greeting the people and becoming the new youth pastors. They even help my wife and I with our kiddos on the mornings that I preach and she sings. If I could describe the fruit of the internship in one word, it would be the word, FUTURE.

I knew that starting a summer youth internship would be a great decision for the present moment of our youth ministry. I just had no idea then that it would be the greatest decision for the FUTURE of the entire church. Thank God that He knew, and now that you know, I want to encourage you to not put off starting up an intentional youth development intensive for your own young people. Take what’s in your hand, look at who’s in your church, and let us help you birth something great of your own. You never know just what and WHO the future holds for you!

If you are inspired by this article and are interested in starting a youth internship program we’d love to help. Check out our newest resource, the Destiny Youth Intensive today at destinyleaders.com/youth

Our Youth Intensive is a one-of-a-kind discipleship program that puts the power of youth internships into the Youth Pastor’s hands for their students right where they are: in their local church.