By Carl Stagner
IYC and state youth conventions do a tremendous job inspiring students to come to Christ, to rededicate their lives to the Lord, and to accept the unique call God has placed on their lives. Most of the students leave these mountain-top experiences having experienced life change to one degree or another, but some also leave recognizing God has called them to lead. Just after the turn of the new century, several youth pastors from the Midwest came together to identify the best way to prepare such students for lifelong Christ-centered leadership. In 2003, 3SLI (then the Tri-State Student Leadership Institute, now Tri-Level) was launched to serve students in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. When West Virginia was added, the name 3SLI didn’t change—and neither did its resolve to come alongside emerging leaders.
3SLI consists of three events over three years for each student to complete. Not only are students given the chance to learn and grow in very specific facets of leadership, those who complete the experience are also given the chance to accept scholarships from participating Church of God universities. Beyond the Midwest, parts of the country had already established or would establish similar Student Leadership Institutes over the years, including Michigan, Florida, and the North Carolina-South Carolina region.
Tami Byrd, who now serves as the project coordinator for U.S. and Canada Youth Ministries, was a part of the original leadership team and directed the event for four years. She explains the rationale behind the events: “3SLI was designed to offer three years of training, each one building on the prior year. A set curriculum was established for each year. Then in 2006, leadership from all the SLI events across the country met to help create a common curriculum, which could be shared widely.”
The following is a very general overview of the three-year process, according to one of the manuals produced to help other regions develop the program:
Year One: To help students identify their individual SHAPE and spiritual giftedness; to give them opportunities to practice and develop spiritual disciplines; to communicate to them through teaching and experiences that they are loved and uniquely designed by God.
Year Two: To help students develop a passion (to become lovers of God) in their walk with Christ by: developing and sharing their personal testimony, leading by example and modeling, living a life of integrity, and learning what it means to be a servant.
Year Three: To lead students into application of their servant leadership skills and witness to their Christian testimony, serving God, and loving others.
Of course, these events, which take young leaders beyond the life-changing experiences of youth conventions to the next level of life-giving potential and follow-through, are only an extension of the vital support and discipleship offered by the local church. According to the 2008 SLI manual, the events are “an arm of the church. They do not replace the local church as the primary location in which mentoring, coaching, and practice occur. SLIs partner with local church and state ministries to provide focused training to equip called young men and women.”
Event leadership, format, and structure have changed over the years among the different SLIs. For example, Indiana Ministries is now at the helm of 3SLI with Tim Jones, executive pastor of North Webster Church of God in North Webster, Indiana, as the event director. Even with these updates, changes, and improvements to the experience, the mission remains the same.
As the next 3SLI event fast approaches (September 21–23 in Cincinnati, Ohio), Tami Byrd reflects upon the time she spent immersed in the power of these “grassroots” initiatives. “3SLI was probably my favorite event, bar none, at the time,” she explains. “I saw students come back year after year and grow. All of them are in ministry today, doing the work of the kingdom in their congregations.”