Developing Young Leaders in South Africa [Video]

Don’t you wish you worked with more adults or experienced leaders? That’s what I hear a lot when people find out that the team in Soshanguve is comprised solely of youth. To me the question evokes the assumption that youth are not capable of as much, are lesser somehow; second class to some extent. I believe in the wisdom that comes with experience and age; yet I hesitate to limit what God can do through someone just because of age. I feel a quote from Wendy Lesko sums up some of what I’ve learned from working with youth. She said… 

“If you ever think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito!”

Listen in as Colletta Rhoads speaks powerfully to why she believes in raising up youth to lead in movements of the gospel, the powerful impact youth in her South African township are having, and some of the key principles to launching these young leaders that she has learned.

Colletta pauses in her presentation to share a video about our work in South Africa, which you can watch in advance here.

Developing Leaders in South Africa With Colletta Rhoads

Are you interested in getting personally involved with gospel movements in your community? Contact us to request a CRM movement mentor to help you in the journey.

Read Colletta's presentation instead...

Greetings everyone, it’s a true joy to be here with you today. Typically it's my husband Doug who is sharing at events. I spend most of of my time these days taking care of these two beauties—every parent likes to show off their kids—but anyone who’s a parent knows that this is more what my reality looks like…  So being here with you all for three days is a real treat for me; not only for a bit a break from parenting but to be able to share a unique perspective: the stay at home mom who is living intentionally in a poor urban community, opening her life to those around her to see movements of the gospel erupt. 


My husband Doug and I reside in a South African township where we are dedicated to developing gospel movements. I was asked to share some of what we are learning in regards to developing youth leaders for movement. My hope is that something in this segment sparks your spirit and is a catalyst into a conversation with Jesus about who, or where, when or how he's inviting you to participate in what he’s doing. 

In an attempt to help paint a picture of what is happening in South Africa a video was compiled highlighting some of the voices of the movement. Let's watch together and celebrate what God has done and then we can explore some of our guiding leadership models and how we have been able to bridge the generational gap.  

Don’t you wish you worked with more adults or experienced leaders? That’s what I hear a lot when people find out that the team in Soshanguve is comprised solely of youth. To me the question evokes the assumption that youth are not capable of as much, are lesser somehow; second class to some extent. I believe in the wisdom that comes with experience and age; yet I hesitate to limit what God can do through someone just because of age. I feel a quote from Wendy Lesko sums up some of what I’ve learned from working with youth. She said… 

“If you ever think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito!”


Tryphina is 17, and loves to sing. When nothing was happening in our community regarding gospel movements she came every week for a year to pray that God would birth something. We didn’t find out til about eight months in that coming to prayer meant she missed dinner, her one substantial meal of the day. 

How many adults can you name right now that would fast and pray once a week for a year without seeing any results?


Jennifer is also 17. She’s a fighter. She has overcome many obstacles in her life. She not only believes she can has a better hope with Jesus, she lives to bring her peers and their parents into that same hope.  

I can change any situation... because I have the authority and I am a child of God.
— Jennifer

So, when people ask me, “Don’t you wish you worked with more adults,” I think to myself, “Maybe they forgot the impact a mosquito in their bed can have.” Or what Jesus can do through a boy who’s willing to offer what he has, two fish and five loaves. 

Why do we work with youth? In all honesty we didn’t set out to develop a youth team or focus on youth in particular. They were the ones who responded. We also believe that the 18–35 year olds are the real key to change in South Africa. When we first started looking at cultivating gospel movements we tried a lot of things with adults—DBS’s, bringing them on leadership team—but for some reason they all failed. The youth in our area have shown to be the most responsive and committed to being part of a gospel movement in their neighborhood.


I have had the privilege of being a mentor to Tryphina and Jennifer. I remember the first time my husband Doug told them that he thought they were ready to help facilitate at one of our trainings. We came to them and told them, “We’re doing this training in Soshanguve, and we think that each of you are ready to facilitate a section.” They looked at each other with big eyes and a bit of a nervous smile but agreed. A few days before the training they came to me and said, “Auntie Co-Co, will you come and support us? That way if we get nervous we can look in the back and see you there and we’ll be alright.” So I said, “Sure, I’ll come,” and I watched them do a beautiful job. After the training they were giving each other high fives, jumping up and down, celebrating a job well done and that God had used them. Now it’s wonderful when you get to see someone have an encounter with the living God, but when you get to see them realize that they get to participate right now in what he is doing, it’s a whole other story. You see, Jesus didn’t come to just save our souls; his invitation is to co-labor with him in bringing the Kingdom of God.


So let’s pause here for a minute. I would like each of you to think of a youth that you know: maybe it’s someone in your family, someone in your community, congregation. Just hold that thought. Maybe it’s someone who’s far from God, or someone who’s close. If they’re far from God, how would you engage them in a spiritual conversation? If they’re close, how would you develop them as a leader? Hold that person in your mind as I give you three guiding principles that we use—how we develop youth. And we really actually apply them across the board, even to adults.

Leadership Development for Gospel Movements 

1. The Come With Me Approach

Our first component is what we call the “Come with me” approach. In this approach the youth learns by experiencing with us in the process of doing ministry. They pray with us, strategize with us, we bring them along as we’re learning how to network. Our model comes from Jesus when he told the disciples “come, follow me.” And they did life together. They lived together, they ate together, they prayed together, and celebrated together; and in the process of doing life Jesus taught them how to be Kingdom citizens, how to pray, and what to do.  

This life on life model has been key because it opens up our lives to show an authentic faith in every facet—not just “churchy” things. They see us when we have a bad day, when we’re praying for a breakthrough or struggle, and they see how we spend our time off. We have also seen how this approach has been effective in building bridges to the younger generation because it creates the kind of space for authentic relationships and meaningful conversations that they crave. These are the kinds of relationships that sustain a movement.

2. The Principle of Quick Release

Also, in developing youth leaders we release quickly and give responsibility early. The way the movement is structured, I’m not the upfront leaders. We lead from behind or alongside. We release others to facilitate the groups, to bring the churches together, and we mentor them from the sidelines. We also pull them into leadership roles as we see interest and how dedicated they are.

I remember when I was first transitioning my Bible study that I led into a Discovery Bible Study group. Every week I would have a different youth facilitate the Bible study and afterward I would have a mentoring session with them, when everyone else had gone. Common in these sessions was excitement as they realized that they could do more than just take up space in this world,that they could lead, they could impact their peers. They just needed to be given a chance to try.  

Fuller Youth Institute just released a book called Growing Young in which it surveyed the top churches across the nation that had a thriving youth population. Across denomination, ethnic background, and size of the church, location—whether they were rural or in the cities, the most common starting point for a thriving youth population was unlocking leadership. The study showed that when leaders released the keys of authority and power into the younger generation as they were ready, it set a platform that created the kind of space that leads to a thriving youth population.  

3. The Willingness Factor

Another component to our strategy is how we select who we are going to work with in youth leadership. Most people seek out those they feel have the most potential. The idea being that, when mentored, trained, and schooled, they’re going to yield more fruit. We approach it a little differently: we look for those who are yielded to the Spirit of the Living God. We look for willingness over potential. The idea being that if someone is willing to follow God—they’re willing to obey, they’re already yielded to his Spirit—there’s going to be more fruit that comes from that than from someone who has the greatest potential in the world but won’t say yes to Jesus.


The Big Vision

Doug and I aren’t the only ones doing this. We are part of a vast network of disciple makers committed to seeing gospel movements, not just in South Africa but across the globe. Tryphina and Jennifer are just two of the disciple makers that are connected to this bigger network. There are hundreds of others who are praying and meeting, studying scripture, training and starting churches. We bring our leaders together with other leaders in different townships and cities who are doing the exact same thing. Youth and elders, all together on a journey—discovering Jesus, obeying his word, and participating in the transformation that it brings.


In CRM we like to talk about movements. And the final component in movements is cultural transformation. The churches that have formed in South Africa are already exploring how the Spirit of the Living God wants to transform their nation. They’ve identified the top pain points within the nation, believing that the spirit of God wants to transform these areas by his Spirit through his people. So last year in August, four gatherings (of believers) came together. They identified that “racism and segregation” was the top pain point within South Africa. So they came: churches from the township, which is mainly a black area; churches from the city, which is mainly white and affluent. All saying, “How can we pray, learn, and seek what God is asking us to do so we can be part of what he wants to change in our nation?” This is what gets me excited—it’s a church that is seeking across its divisions to be a catalyst to the victory is already won on the cross. How many know that in the Body we are unified as one? These walls—he’s torn them down! And we get to be part of making it a reality here. And so the churches are looking to say, “How can we be part of that transformation?” It’s a church of action, a church of transformation.

I’m going to give you an analogy that is a bit unconventional, but I ask you to bear with me.

Do you remember that mosquito from earlier?

I’m allergic to mosquito bites. When I get bit they swell up—it’s not pretty. And if I get bit in multiple places right next to each other they will swell together and create one big welt. So let’s say my body is a representation of the world. My dream is that there would be so many mosquitos biting that the welts would swell together and create one big welt across my body. Those mosquitos of course represent the multiplication of ordinary people participating in gospel movements, making a noticeable transformation on their world.

Our vision is to multiply the Jennifers and the Tryphinas, the Sellos and the Jonathans, and see them have a lasting faith that brings real transformation in their cities. My dream is that you, too, would see that in your families, in your congregations, and in your cities. May it be so in Jesus.


Colletta Rhoads is part of Ethne South Africa, and has been with CRM since 2009. She and her husband Doug have two children and live in South Africa, where they work to cultivate gospel movements.