I put my foot in my mouth the other day. One of my students was talking about the types of “boys” there are out there. She told a couple of us leaders about “F-boys” and “E-boys,” etc., (if you don’t know what those are, you are not alone) and as she explained the different types I asked the obvious question, “Are there any real boys?”
I know. You’re thinking I am really bright right now. Needless to say, she told me I triggered her and that she doesn’t like me anymore. All the while, I stood flabbergasted, while my leaders laughed at me as if it’s the funniest thing they had ever witnessed. In hindsight, I could have used better words, but hindsight is always 20/20. Of Course, I felt horrible—like I’m the worst youth pastor ever. We talked the next day, and I apologized. She said she overreacted and told me that yes, there are normal boys, but she finds them boring. Fortunately, She likes me…today.
It’s the fun and difficult conversations like these that continue to show me we are in a new social environment, a “new cultural moment” as John Mark Comer puts it. We are in a new frontier and quite honestly it’s parents and youth pastors that are the first explorers in this new terrain. It’s not like we don’t have tools, but those tools are designed for the shire, not for the adventure we now find ourselves in. So, if we are gonna make lasting change in the lives of the students we serve, we must play by a new set of rules designed for this new journey. Here are the 3 “rules” I have discovered in my short time as a Student Pastor, that I believe will help us navigate successfully through this new frontier while continuing to develop healthy student ministries.
I love Luke Skywalker. The Hero’s journey he takes to becoming the most powerful Jedi in the universe is a story that has captivated youth workers hearts for generations. We dream of one day being just like that. Vanquishing the evil apathy in students. Except…we weren’t called by God to be Luke. Anyone who has been called into a student’s life is called to be a Yoda. We can’t take the hero’s journey for those we serve. We can only coach them. We must refuse to do for our students what they can do for themselves. Only in evangelical religion do we call junior highers our “church of the future” while they quietly slip out the back door because we treat them as if we believe they should “wait their turn.” Their dirty little secret is they don’t believe they need to wait to be catalysts for change. They can get on Youtube and be relevant and effective NOW.
You know who is more effective at getting teenagers to listen about Jesus better than a 32 year-old youth pastor who still calls “slides” “flip flops?” You guessed it—teenagers. It’s time to move to the role of coach and begin to help students “learn to fish” by giving them the responsibility and authority to take risks in what I believe should be their safest place—the church. Now, this is not an overnight shift, and I am still learning to implement student leadership into our student ministry, but I believe the first step into moving this direction is building a sustainable, effective discipleship strategy that is more than just a program.
- Show you must. There is no tell. (See what I did there)
Discipleship is about one thing: Growing in Intimacy with the Father. It isn’t about knowing the most scripture by heart—although knowing them will be byproducts and more useful in our relationship. It is not about understanding systematic theology, although we will have a clearer view of the character of God as we grow. It is not about knowing what is approved behavior and what is not, although our behavior will change as a result. It is about abiding in Him. There is only one way to do that and it isn’t through an information dump.
I am convinced that the Information Age we live in is wreaking havoc on ministries and families that refuse to play by the new rules. This is the first generation that doesn’t need you to tell them any information at all. They have a magic genie that will tell them anything they need to know just by saying the two words “Hey Siri.” Think about it. Typical church experience has been: come, sit and listen to the guy on the stage who can give us new information in entertaining ways. Students (and adults for that matter) don’t need that anymore. They crave a deep, authentic experience to engage in. The challenge is that when we move from information to experience the requirements for leaders change. We must move from being the informer to the facilitator. These are two different skills.
They aren’t going to listen to you anymore, without first knowing you have something worth listening to. So we must Show them. We must show them what prayer looks like. Literally, we must have them watch us pray, then we must help them pray, and then we must watch them pray, and then we have them lead in prayer. We must show them what Studying Scripture looks like, then we must… you get the point. Awkward I know. It makes you feel vulnerable and naked to have some person who can observe and judge you watch your most intimate moments with an Invisible Deity. But if you do they will get it. It may take awhile, but they will get it. For us to develop leaders we must show them, not tell them.
Do the work and have some patience. Plant and water, water and plant. Know that in time, you will reap a harvest. Many of your students will blossom into leaders in time, but you have to do the work. You have to do the hard work of recruiting and training adult leaders, you have to do the hard work of thinking through scope and sequence, you have to go to coffee with students, you have to build relationships, you have to give away more ministry, and you have to create sustainable systems. This is all the work of tilling the ground, planting the seed and watering, and not getting hot under the collar when your leaders quit, and your students remain apathetic, and the curriculum isn’t the way you want it.
My mentor once told me, “Everyone is superficial. You can either get mad at that fact and never be effective, or you can embrace it and be surprised sometimes.” If we will understand we are working out our salvation (students and leaders alike) then when things don’t go the way they “should have” we won’t be so bent out of shape. We will be calm and seemingly unflappable. This is the hard work of tilling… we get little results until one day we see tons of progress! Keep tilling, working, being patient knowing that God provides the harvest. We have no control over His role. There is a serenity that comes with knowing it’s not on us. Do the work, and relax. And believe it or not, that peace demonstrated will be as attractive to teens as a light is to a moth.
If I could add 5 more “rules” to these I would, but experience has taught me, like youth pastors some of us are having a hard time reading this far (youth pastors prefer picture books). But let me leave you with this. Youth ministry—like anything that involves people— is messy, and we shouldn’t try to go at it alone. Frodo had his fellowship, Dom had his family, and Bugs Bunny kidnapped MJ. We all need each other.