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Building Requires Development

Obviously, if you are in student ministry then you have a desire to see young people come to know the Jesus that we have all been captivated by and desire to continue the inspiration to others like most of our youth pastors did for us (that is a big reason for most of us being in ministry, right?) We want to see students come to know Jesus but come to an even greater understanding that they have an identity that is found in Christ at the moment that they acknowledge Him as their Lord and Savior… but there’s a problem. Not all students will come to this realization while under your program.

    There have been countless analogies that have been made to describe this, but I think the one that finds the most weight (at the time of my writing this atleast) is the planting, watering and harvesting illustration. Each of these stages are all unique in their times but there’s one truth that comes from this. You will NOT be the person that brings every student into a relationship with Jesus. It’s not going to happen, so go ahead and get that mindset out the door. I have had conversations with many young youth pastors that believe that they will have the opportunities to bring all their students into a relationship with God… but in all honesty… Jesus didn’t even do that. We have to immediately remove any mindset that makes us think that we are going to be the person that saves students (sounds crazy I know, but it happens). We feel like WE have to be the person that is there for them. We feel like WE have to be the person that speaks life into them… but the average person hears the Gospel 7.5 times before they accept it. I’m not entirely sure where this statistic comes from, but the point is that some people will plant the initial discovery of Jesus. More people will come along and water this idea of Jesus being worth the investment. Then finally, someone will be the person that actually sees that come into fruition and it’s a fantastic thing.

Regardless where you are on the road of a student’s journey towards Jesus, there are three things that we need to pay attention:

1. Find their Current Ground

2. Find Their Next Location

3. Figure Out How You Can Lead Them Towards That Direction

This is a very easy thing to forget and it’s really easy to walk through our student ministries with the idea of our goal is to get people to Jesus. Once people GET to Jesus, we have done our job…. But in all honesty… could that be one of the biggest problems in our church today? A few decades of Youth Ministry that didn’t have a discipleship focus and based one hundred percent of their attention on an evangelical purpose? Jesus says pretty clear in the gospel of Matthew that we are to go out, bring people to Jesus, THEN teach them the ways that we have been taught. We can’t stop at bringing them to Jesus. We have to keep their momentum pressing on and teach them to keep walking through trials and joys. Like I mentioned, our “Big Win” is students taking their next step. When we develop those kids to not only see their next step but to make strides forward taking their next step. We celebrate their progress but keep pushing them forward. But the question becomes, “How can I do this?” Here are some things that you should do in order to answer and plan out the student’s journey. We need to clearly define our goals for the leaders in our program.

This goes back to the discussion earlier. With no clear direction, there is only one clear outcome…. Eventual failure. We need to work to establish clear directional goals for our leaders to push them and equip them to be tremendous leaders after the students in their program. Make clear goals and make sure that you follow up with them regularly. The plan of action that we implement with our students is fairly direct and clear (and once again totally not my idea, credit goes to Justin Knowles at Sandals Church in California, but that’s the beauty of working collaboratively with other Student Pastors from everywhere.)

   We have four steps that we ask our leaders to regularly aim for in their week to week ministry: Conversation, Follow Up, Connection and Fellowship. These are laid out in an easy to check off scenario that can make it easy to follow along and hold them accountable. 

Conversation

Are you having regular faith-centered conversations with your students?

Follow Up

When students tell you something (struggle, prayer request, etc), are you following up with them later to show that you care?

Connection

Do the parents of the students in your small group know who you are? Are you intentionally communicating with the parents of your group?

Fellowship

Are you connecting with your students outside of your normal small group times? Are you inviting them to do life with you and talk with you outside of the hour that you meet weekly?

All of these are simple tasks when seen on paper and can also be considered as something that’s easy to check off (as long as intentionality is behind it.) This gives the leaders clear direction and focus for what they should be spending their time on while they are at their small group as well as reminding them to connect with their students outside of the group. This is something that is super powerful in building connections between leaders and students as well as developing the leaders to be intentional with their time. This does require accountability and you should regularly be meeting with your leaders to ask questions about how they are doing in their personal lives as well as how they feel that ministry is happening. We have to build a relationship where they feel comfortable around us. I think it’s tremendously important to note that this is different for EVERYONE but there are ways to help. Find students that are natural leaders to help you with this. Give leaders the charge to speak life into the students. Once they feel like they belong, they are far more likely to listen, apply what’s being taught and to accept the life change that comes with the application. You are not alone. Don’t do this on your own. I think that the most impactful thing that we ever did in our ministry was put the faith conversations into the hands of the volunteer leaders and allow them to be the ones that are having the conversations since they are the ones teaching and leading small groups week after week.If we are able to do this, you are able to push your ministry past yourself. You are able to leave a legacy on a program that should hopefully last long after you leave your current ministry. The other side of this is the fact that it can be a tremendous blessing for the next pastor that steps in after you to walk into a fully autonomous and working ministry that focuses on empowering the leaders and not just having ourselves be “the big show.”Don’t be afraid to continuously speak life and direction into the hearts of your students. I think that there are many questions that are asked throughout the teenage years, but there are a few topics that questions revolve around:

Identity

Belonging

Purpose

    Anytime you’re able to speak life into a student, you are ultimately helping them gain traction on these pivotal moments within the development of their teenage years. These three topics will shape the direction of not only their future but will impact decisions and choices that they will make for their future spouse, children and not to mention future church.

     These topics are fairly universal in the lives of teenagers and they have been topics that have been searched on for decades if not centuries and I would honestly argue that if they don’t have these questions answered during their teenage years, they will continue well into adulthood trying to find the answers or they will buy into the first lie that they are told.     So… how do you speak life into your students? How do you work on not only a relationship but a guided journey of questions and answers while they are working on the answers for themselves while helping them navigate the potential pitfalls of the culture that surrounds them? We have to help them learn the nature of contentment that Paul readily recognized and model it through our conversations with the students and our lives that are constantly on watch. C.S. Lewis writes,“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

    We speak life into students to encourage students in the discovery of their identity in Christ. We speak life into students to encourage students in their ability to trust God’s will for their lives. We speak life into students to teach them that contentment in Christ is far greater than anything that can be achieved by athletic, academic or extracurricular merit. We teach them the foundations that will hopefully push them to accepting a faith that is their own. A faith that will grow and nourish their spirit as they move into college/young adulthood and beyond. It’s a beautiful opportunity to see and hear students “get it” when it comes to living for Jesus.

Brent Aiken

Brent Aiken

Author

Brent Aiken is the Student Pastor at Wylie Methodist Church in Abilene, Texas. He has been in student ministry for the past 12 years and loves to equip the next generation of leaders to be bold in their faith and relationship with Jesus.

 

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