In order to start exercising the writing muscle a bit, I asked my Facebook friends for suggestions for top-5 lists. You know, prompts to get the brain going. The eighth one is a combination from my friends Cristina, Kendra and Kevin. There’s no way I could list five favorite students or funniest ministry moments or whatever because I’d have to condense a quarter-century of micro events. So, I took a little latitude to be…
The Top Five Things I Tried To Make A Hallmark Of My Student Ministry
- Build deep relationships based on authenticity.
If we wanted to make disciples rather than run a successful program, we’d have to take the long view and build relationships. So we went to the lunchroom and ate lunches (well, sat at their table while they ate. As a grownup, I could eat wherever I wanted) with them, we went to their events, we had our house open so when they felt like it, they could pop in (as long as the flag was up!). We had meals with them at our table. We went on retreats designed to get to know them rather than fun them to death and then have a speaker use guilt as a motivation. Now they call that kind of ministry “incarnational,” but we were just doing what we saw Jesus doing: Come alongside me as I live life and imitate Christ and we’ll see what happens.
My guess is we were pretty effective at that as I’m still connected (a lot of it is social media-driven) to students I knew 25 years ago. I’ve performed their wedding ceremonies. I’ve held their children. They still come into our home without knocking.
2. Elevate students beyond normal congregational expectations.
I was always of the belief if our students were following Jesus, they’d been gifted and placed to help our Body mature. So, we made sure they weren’t relegated to a basement room (no matter how cool it might’ve been), but rather wanted them serving throughout the Church. They weren’t part of our church’s future, but rather a part of our *now.* We weren’t relegating them to one service a year. We wanted them a regular part of every single thing we did every week…from the parking lot to teaching small groups and anything and everything in between.
3. Challenge my students with very high expectations.
I set the bar high and pushed my students. We taught exegetically. We expected them to serve. We shoved them out of their comfort zones and made them uncomfortable by design. We didn’t give them easy answers and made them wrestle with tough things. We stole a phrase, “burn the bridges of convention and safety and light up the sky in the process.” We didn’t apologize for that, either. One year, when we asked our students to design the t-shirt, they came up with “Crossroads Bible Church Student Ministry: For When You’re Tired of Playing Games.” The back of the shirt said, “Challenge the Status Quo.” I always thought that was pretty cool, even if some parents thought I was “too hard” on the students. I was making disciples, man.
4. Teach my students to think rather than manage their behavior.
This is where most parents misunderstood. People (usually parents) would come up and tell me of some movie/music/tv/book I should make sure our students were aware of. Or they’d want me to tell the the “right” thing to believe. We took the approach that, like Francis Schaeffer said, we’d “speak boldly and with authority where the Bible did, and remain silent where it remained silent.” This didn’t sit well with a lot of folks. We weren’t interested in compliant 16-year-olds. We wanted followers of Jesus Christ, who is always good and isn’t always safe. Most folks want safe and compliant.
5. Give grace and space.
Spiritual formation is a slow business. So, sometimes, teens would have a season (some last a week, some a month, some years, etc.) where they were making choices. We’d lovingly communicate truth and try to keep them close to us, but most of the time, they’d drift away. A parent once said, “Brent, this is a hard group for a kid to fail in.” I let her know that it wasn’t, but rather it was a hard group to be unrepentant in. As long as a kid was wanting to grow, we could trust the Holy Spirit to work in them and cause the growth. But we weren’t going to manipulate them (which, frankly, was pretty easy to do)…so we strived to have a balance of grace and truth…which isn’t easy. Still isn’t. But we could let a kid grow at their own pace and love on them as long as they weren’t using license to justify sin. So, we trusted that God would do His thing and it was our job to get out of His way.
Funny…these are still some of my most deeply held bases for what I do.