I grew up in a traditional church. My “youth experience” consisted of hanging with other kids in the fellowship hall after mass. Our hands full of sticky, yummy doughnuts, we watched the adults. Fast forward a few decades, and I am helping plant a church with a budding group and my husband, a Student Minister. Did I say we meet in a movie theatre? Yes…a movie theatre. We wear blue jeans. Our seats have cup holders, which hold Starbucks or water bottles. I can clearly see the words on the giant screen (I think we should have a 3-D worship). Thanks to our Pastor, we have delicious Krispy Kreme doughnuts! As a result, I have this twisted psychological association with doughnuts and church. I contemplate things such as the possiblity of doughnuts and Starbucks in Heaven. Then, I look up and see the movie sign, “Paranormal” blinking at me. At that point, I know I’m still on earth.
Embarking on a new youth ministry, I am pondering the things that work and the things that I believe will not. God is the true determiner of the ministry, and yet we get to be a part of His plan. Serving students for 8 years, having college-age sons, and being blessed with very “communicative” students that tell us like it is…we have learned greatly:
1. Don’t be numbers driven.
Recently, I asked our intern to count how many students were attending the ministries we serve around the community. It dawned on me no one really knew. We meet in homes and buildings all over town. It only mattered because we wanted to send out new information sheets and had no idea how many copies we should print. We tallied and were shocked at the amount of students we have served in our first year. However, our focus has never been “the number.” The focus is “the individual.” The number…is one. When we are concerned with the person in front of us that God has strategically placed in our life, relationship and ministry happens. Jesus deeply discipled 12 men, and He often poured into them one at a time. He loves soul-to-soul. From the women at the well, the blind man, to the apostle John, he values the individual. God is so into you, He numbers the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7). Our goal should never be to “fill chairs” but to minister to the individual in the chair. There are times that numbers matter. For me, it is when we are making copies.
2. Don’t control everything and everybody.
Delegating allows students, college-age singles, young couples, and parents to get involved. People yearn to use their spiritual gifts! Christians find joy and meaning in teaching, leading worship, entering data in the computer system, and picking up the doughnuts. When we are superman, it denies others the opportunity to participate and be a part of the body. People become disgruntled when not engaged in the life of the youth ministry. (Ephesians 4: 11-16) describes gifts, unity, and how the body is built up through Christ. He equips, and we are not to disregard that. We are warned of chaos, winds of teaching, and scheming that occurs when gifts are not used and unity falls apart. Moses came along to proclaim God’s heart to the leader of Egypt, Pharaoh. After much deliberation, Moses developed the gall to tell the most important ruler “Let my people go.” How many youth ministries exist where no one can write curriculum, play guitar for the first time in public, or plan a retreat or a mission trip? The students commonly refer to this as a “joy-kill.” Having proper leadership and authority are vital. However, a healthy youth ministry can be led highly by its students, as inexperienced as they may be. It takes more work on the part of the adult leaders, but it allows you more time together. It’s great to see students leading students, students running the drama team, and students planning retreats. Don’t send the students to get the doughnuts. That is the only thing they can’t do.