Finding Student Leaders

Last fall InterVarsity staff workers Dave and Erin Foster started their ministry year at Columbia College with only eight students regularly attending, and no assigned student leaders. But after New Student Outreach (NSO) in September, they found themselves with a much larger chapter. More than 200 students signed up during their NSO events, and by the end of the year between 30-40 students were regularly attending chapter meetings.

Almost all of the regular attenders had strong leadership potential. Next year the Fosters will have 20 students leading the chapter.

God has blessed the chapter by taking it from a fledgling campus group with no student leadership structure to a thriving ministry in a short period of time. The Fosters, in their second year on staff, worked hard with this growing chapter to create an environment that cultivates an attitude of responsibility.

“We built a standard of leadership among the students which led to a culture of trust and encouragement that ricocheted around the chapter,” said Erin. They challenged their students to take active roles in the chapter this year, even though they had no formal leadership positions.

The growing chapter has kept the Fosters from getting too comfortable in how the chapter has functioned so far. The couple has had to learn how to select new leaders for next year and redefine their roles as staff members; both areas of change are good challenges, though, however difficult to navigate. In terms of their own leadership, they must go from leading the chapter on their own, to taking on more advisory roles next year, since they also work with students at other art schools in Chicago.

Finding a pool of students to choose from for leadership next year was not a problem; most of the students involved in the chapter were good candidates. The challenge came in the Foster’s lack of experience in picking who among those students should lead and discerning what roles fit each student’s gifts. But although they were new to the selection process, the couple knew what they were looking for in terms of character.

Early on in the year they kept their eyes open for students who were available, teachable, and displayed faithfulness and commitment to God and the InterVarsity chapter. Furthermore, they wanted students who were passionate about the chapter’s vision (that it shares with the national InterVarsity movement): students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world changers developed.

The Foster’s were blessed with having many students in their chapter demonstrate the qualities of a leader that they sought.

Zach, a new leader, demonstrates the transformation the chapter went through this year and exemplifies the kind of students that will lead the chapter next year. There were very few men attending chapter meetings, and like others, Zach began the year on the fringes of InterVarsity. He was a committed believer but hadn’t found his place in the mission of God yet. Dave took the opportunity to meet with Zach a few times, and began to see leadership potential in him right away.

With Dave’s encouragement, Zach began an ongoing Critique Night – an emotionally safe place where Christians could show their artwork and get honest feedback about their pieces. As he continued to lead Critique Night, his faith grew tremendously, and Dave and Erin saw in him qualities that set him apart – leadership, creativity, and faithfulness to God. Since being asked onto the leadership team for next year, Zach’s commitment and excitement to lead have grown, and he has begun to passionately communicate InterVarsity’s vision to the chapter.

Zach and all the other students selected for leadership next year were given roles within the chapter that fit their skills and passions. The Fosters didn’t want to simply fill the holes in leadership positions. To them it was more important to put students in positions that affirmed their strengths so that they might reach their leadership potential.

They believe that if you give a student something to do that matches their skills and passions the joy they find in leading will catch like wildfire. “By affirming our students in the leadership skills that we already see developing, they become willing and enthusiastic about finding more opportunities to use their gifts in advancing the community,” Erin said.

It was through the Foster’s diligent prayer and encouragement, and the students challenging each other to apply, that brought about the formation of a strong leadership team for next year. At first after the leaders were selected, Dave and Erin were surprised by some of the students who ended up on the Vision Team (those leading the larger chapter). At first glance it seemed as if they would not form a cohesive group; but after seeing their abilities, attitudes, and ideas gel during their time at Chapter Camp, the Foster’s feel confirmed that God’s hand was in the selection process.

Even though finding leaders was a new experience for the Fosters, the couple could not be more thrilled about the way that the student’s gifts and passions fit together. “It is so neat to see how God knit us together,” said Erin.




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