When Students Become Leaders
Amy Nickerson | March 2017
“We see that there are many young volunteers in churches who really love to serve and God has called them to serve, but they don’t know how; how to lead a small group or prepare a Bible study. We are trying to provide a basic education for them.”
Denisa Harcarova, director of Josiah Venture’s School of Leaders in her country of Slovakia, passionately explained the need for this year-long program that equips youth leaders through monthly weekends of classes like systematic theology and Christ’s ministry strategy, and practical training opportunities like volunteering at conferences and events.
“I believe when you experience that God is using you in His work for His Kingdom something changes in your heart and God deepens your calling even more.” That’s how Denisa sees God using the program in the lives of the students who go through it, preparing and deepening the hearts of students for full-time ministry in their local churches.
She should know, because before her years of leading School of Leaders, she herself was one of the students.
When asked how she first got connected to the program, Denisa laughed. “The longer story starts with me accepting Jesus when I was 14, but I’ll tell you the shorter story. When I was around 17, I started to work with our youth group in my local church. At the time there wasn’t really a functioning youth group, but I had a desire to do something there to make disciples and to serve God. But I didn’t know how. I had no skills or the knowledge I’d need for that.”
A friend saw Denisa’s potential though and invited her to attend School of Leaders in 2006, a few years after the program started. “I learned a lot about systematic theology and how to prepare a talk and study the Bible with someone. I found it very useful, and I enjoyed spending time with people who were in full-time ministry. When I saw their faith and how they loved Jesus, it was really appealing to me. So when I was asked two years later if I would join School of Leaders as an intern to teach practical skills, I said yes. I wanted to spend time with the people and I saw it as an opportunity for myself to grow even more.”
Grow she did and now Denisa has served in her current full-time role for the past four years. Much like her, many of the other students in the program end up interning with the School of Leaders or becoming full-time staff members with Josiah Venture’s Slovakia team later on.
Denisa explains that this could be because of the program’s tight-knit community; having a small group of around 15 students admitted to School of Leaders each year. “We’re trying to make it very personal, so that students feel like they are in a family. It’s not about us teaching them something and not having relationships with them. We do mentoring. Each student has an appointed mentor for the whole year and they meet with the mentor during the monthly meetings, but also they are in contact outside of the meetings. We see it not just as a benefit, but something we really love in School of Leaders, that we are personal. When students finish this year, we invite them for the next year as volunteers. They are still a part of the family, but they come as helpers, and they see it from the other side. They get to know the new students and we have help, so it’s beneficial for everybody.”
Although Denisa considers the team’s biggest challenge the lack of formal education (only one person on the leadership team is theologically educated officially) and is currently looking for ways to raise the quality of education provided, she says, “It’s great to see how God is using us even though we aren’t professionals, in order to teach others something about Himself.”
The team gets to witness God at work in the lives of young individuals. “We see in the personal lives of students that they are responsive and learning a lot and are really grateful for the opportunity to attend School of Leaders.”
And this translates into transformation of entire churches as well. “We even see how local church teams are growing in Christ’s strategy in preparation of their leaders, foundation, expansion, and multiplication.”
The harnessing of the energy, passion, and potential of young Christian adults and the empowering of these students so that they can in turn empower those growing up after them is what Josiah Venture is all about. We share Denisa’s hope when she says, “We want to find those leaders and train them and help them to see the new generation emerging, helping them to raise a new generation of leaders in their local churches.”
Please pray with us for Denisa and the rest of the leadership team in Slovakia as they look for innovative ways of equipping their students with God-honoring excellence. Pray for the School of Leaders students as they study the Bible this year and serve God in their local ministry contexts. Pray that they would be bold and obedient, noticing and taking opportunities to implement what they’ve learned. And pray for JV’s other training programs taking place across Central and Eastern Europe, that we would effectively train national Christian leaders to have a lasting impact for God’s Kingdom.