Posts Tagged ‘student ministry’


student minstry is a stepping-stone!

November 13, 2010

Don’t you just hate it when people look at student ministry as a stepping-stone? How dare someone take our calling and belittle it to a mere hoop to jump through. I have had heated and passionate conversations with many colleagues around this topic, and as I write this today, most of those people have done just that. They used to be in student ministry and have stepped into another calling. The problem is, at the core of our being, we fear that it might actually be true, student ministry really is a stepping-stone.

For many young people who sense a call into ministry, student ministry is the only real place for someone to work out their call. As a recent college graduate there is only one option to explore vocational ministry, and it is with students. I have yet to see a church hire a 22 year old pastor of spiritual formation, or teaching pastor, or small groups pastor. But many churches would love to hire a 22 year old to work with their students.

And the truth is that student ministry is a great place to explore a calling into ministry. In this job you realize that ministry is complex and challenging. You begin to understand the emotional and spiritual weight of walking through life and working out issues of faith with people. You also begin to realize that a call into ministry involves paperwork, politics, budgets, and bosses. And through the graciousness of God, if you can make it through the church’s version of hell week, then you might be called into vocational ministry.

The greatest gift about vocational ministry is that whatever your unique passion is, whatever context gets you the most excited, and whatever unique gifts and talents you bring to the table, there is a place for you to serve in the Church. Student ministry is only one, very small slice of what this call to vocational ministry could look like.

It makes sense that so many people view student ministry as a stepping stone, because that is what is happening. Many people are using student ministry as a place to being exploring this call. And as God clarifies their call, many people move on to be faithful to the new place where God leads. Many of my colleagues have left student ministry to be church planters, associate pastors, heads of non prophets, teachers, and even a mailman.

For me, it wasn’t until I had turned 30 and completed my M.Div. that I actually felt called to student ministry. It was the first time in my life that I had many doors open to me in the ministry world, and of all the options, student ministry was the place where God wanted me to stay. But for me, and I would guess even for you, student ministry still is just a stepping-stone. Will I be doing this when I am 40, 50, 60? Only Steve Pace can say yes to this, and I bet that even Steve would see his role in student ministry dramatically different than he did in his 30’s and even his 40’s.

The fundamental issues is not whether or not student ministry is a stepping-stone, but it is rather, are we being faithful to listen to God and obey his calling. The psalmist says that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. I am pretty sure that we are only supposed to see one or two stones at a time and we walk along this path of calling. If we get too hung up on this stepping-stone business then we will miss out on opportunities that God might have for us, and worse, crush the calling God may have on our colleagues.

May we fully live out our calling to students while we are on this stone. And when the voice of God calls us, or our fellow youth workers, into an another area of service, we will gladly and faithfully go wherever that is. For the glory and honor of Jesus Christ. (Today, I am glad that it is still on the student ministry stone!)


If your student likes nelly, then she will like . . .

October 29, 2010

For the longest time, I have tried really hard to relate to students. I have known that music was a very powerful gateway, and if I just had a little guidance then I would be able to relate to them, to understand them, and be able speak their language. But even more than relating, I would be able to influence their musical diet and help them transition into artists that would help them develop spiritually as well. Year after year I would buy curriculum that would help me “understand” my students and would be able to point them to “appropriate” choices. And as I did this, year after year, I realized that this attempt to understand youth culture actually did a disservice to me, my students, and my calling as a youth worker.

When we look to some outside person, group, curriculum, author to tell us about our culture, we are actually embracing a false reality. There might have been a time when there was a youth culture. But that time is no more. Even in our small youth group we have students from different versions of youth culture together in one room creating our own unique culture. Because there is no one, two, or even three versions of youth culture, we can not rely totally on outside voices to speak into our lives and equip us to do the heavy lifting in our context. It might be time to put that resource back on the shelf and do some hard work.

We need to first swallow the tough medicine that there is not one unified culture, one way to meet kids’ needs, one model of student ministry that will work for us. We live in a fractured culture where there are millions of options to define us, and every option defines us in different ways. In order to understand how to meet the specific needs of the students we work with, we have to figure out the specific context we find ourselves in.

What is the context we find our selves:
Where do we live? Urban, suburban, rural?
What are the economic conditions? Rich, poor, depressed, generous, stingy?
What is the spiritual climate? Are people churched or unchurched? Pro, Neutral, Anti Christian?
What kind of church do you work in? Evangelical, Mainline, Catholic, Pentecostal?
Who is your church in your community? The leader, the follower, the biggest, the smallest?

By just figuring out our location, we see that there are already a variety of issues and needs that will need to be addressed and will need to be addressed differently depending on where we live. But these questions only get us part of the way. This just gives us a broad picture of where we find ourselves. Within this unique context we have our fractured youth culture with an entirely new set of questions.

Who are the student in our ministry and in our community:
What is their family background? Strong family, broken family, really broken family?
What kind of resources do they have? Huge allowances, part time jobs?
What activities are they involved in? Sports, band, art, service, video games?
What is their spiritual background? Churched families or unchurched families?
What are your specific students main needs? Felt, unfelt, spiritual?

With just a cursory look at the actual place you are called to do ministry and the specific students to whom you are called, you can see that there is no way a boxed curriculum or author or speaker can tell you what your students needs are or how best to meet them. But we do have an example from scripture of someone who understood their unique context and unique sets of people within that context. The apostle Paul was a master at this.

In In Acts 13, Paul finds himself in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. In this Jewish community Paul easily retells the story of God’s faithfulness to his people; God rescuing the people of Israel from Egypt, giving them the law of Moses, conquering Canaan, and establishing a king, King David. And although David died, Jesus, his decedent, rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, and offers the forgiveness and justification the law of Moses was unable to do.

In Acts 17, Paul finds himself in a completely different context. Now he is in the middle of a Gentile city, surrounded by pagan idols. The story of the people of Israel have no touch points in this context. Paul’s personal testimony of persecuting the Jews, or the heartbreak of his ministry doesn’t matter to the people of Athens. And instead of Paul relying on his own history, his own experiences, or his own expression of faith, Paul taps into a larger gospel story, one that will be received in this unique context.

During his time in Athens, Paul notices the religiosity of the people and uses their idol worship as a thin place to share Jesus. He capitalizes on one of the temples and uses a known poet as a hook and then shares how this mysterious and unknown God has been made known by Jesus his son whom he rose from the dead. And although a revival didn’t break out in this city, Paul did manage to capture their attention and opened the door for further conversation.

The apostle Paul understood that his location impacted his message. Paul understood that even in s similar location, the specific backgrounds of the people he was sharing with impacted his message. Paul had a deep faith in Jesus Christ and had an amazing combination of passion and wisdom. This is the combination that we are going to need to move forward in ministering to needs of the specific students in our specific context

So, even though we are colleagues in ministry. And even though we share a passion to walk with students along this journey toward Christ. And even though we may do student ministry in the exact same context and in the exact same town, God has given each of us totally unique and special people with very complex needs and issues. We may be able to share ideas and resources, but God has given you the call to ministry to the specific students in your ministry.

Let us give up trying to be someone we are not. You see, I don’t even like Nelly. And the truth is I couldn’t tell you one of Nelly’s songs. All I know is that Nelly has a song that is in the top ten downloads this week. I will never know “youth culture.” But I do know my students. And It has been a pure joy to walk with them, as they work out their issues of life and faith. And because I am working with my particular students in my particular context, I get to spend time getting to know them, praying for them, speaking truth into their lives, and showering them with grace and mercy. It is actually easier not knowing anything about “their” culture. We are already outsiders, With this reality, may we now have the freedom to ask questions and be invited into their world.

As we go, may be be true missionaries to our unique context with the passion and wisdom of Christ as we proclaim the good news to our students. Amen, and amen!


adolescent theology

September 5, 2010


Kenda Dean has written a really challenging book titled, Almost Christian. And CNN wrote a really fair review of the book and her study:

Dean’s conclusion is simple and profound: “Your child is following a ‘mutant’ form of Christianity, and you may be responsible . . . more American teenagers are embracing what she calls ‘moralistic therapeutic deism.’ Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a ‘divine therapist’ whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.”

My conclusion: YIKES!

Student Ministry is a really complicated calling with an even more complicated application. For their entire personal, emotional, and spiritual development until adolescents has been without the ability to understand abstract concepts or ideas. Their world is concrete and they are the center of it. Everything that occurs happens with them in the center. In fact it is actually impossible, developmentally, to see outside of this reality. And for better or worse our children’s ministry and our student ministry fit this developmental framework as we come along side them and help them see that in this world of theirs there is a God who loves them desires a relationship with them. Jesus loves ME this I know!

As children transition into adolescence, they can actually being to conceptualize a world outside themselves. I know that any 5 minute conversation with a teenager might cause you to question that statement, it is true. Chap Clark summed up a ton of complicated sociological work into the term individuation. This is the process in which students are sorting out their own identity. And this process can only happen by separating yourself, by developing an identity as someone other. And to do this, means that for the first time students can begin to conceptualize a world outside themselves, and even a God that might be about more then their world.

While I so appreciate the hard work that Dean has done, and agree with her conclusions, I am not quite ready to throw out youth ministry, the church, or parents in the process. This is a reality that is well documented, and to address this “mutant” form of Christianity, we need to first recognize some of the significant obstacles in helping our students develop good theology.

1) Adolescent development means that their natural inclination is to have an ego centric view of theology. And as adolescence lengthens the chances to really tackles this is even more difficult. Where middle schoolers were developmentally ready to work out their theology just a generation ago, high schoolers are just at the beginning of this process. So instead of six solid years to work this out, we are looking at maybe one or two years where students can realistically develop a theology that is healthy and centered around God and not themselves.

2) Our American Christian Culture. At the very core of our national identity is this deep strain of individualism and self-reliance. And this has impacted our theology. We come out of a tradition where Jesus saves me, where Jesus heals me, where Jesus blesses me. And when Jesus doesn’t come through for me, many have a crisis of faith.

These two obstacles are enormous contributors that leave students with a self-centered view of faith. And this is not a faith in a the personal a specific God found in the Bible, but the generic, moralistic, therapeutic deism that Dean has observed. While this may be a fact, this doesn’t have to be the end. This study is a very helpful indicator of the context in which we are called to do student ministry.

Every context in every time has obstacles, and this “mutant” from of Christianity is one of ours. Now we get the opportunity to find ways that work in our context to help students develop emotionally and spiritually in a way that paints a world view where Jesus is in the center, not them. Confirmation Curriculum, The Apostles’ Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Reading Through The Entire Bible, and Short and Long Term Missions, are time tested ways to communicate that the Jesus we follow is so much bigger than we are and so doesn’t need us in any way, but invites us to go with Him, to where He is going.

In the midst of our amazing lessons with great theology, we mostly get the privilege to graciously walk through life’s ups and downs. And as we walk alongside them, we get to help students frame their experiences with a theology that the church has affirmed for thousands of years and will serve them their entire lives, no matter their context or circumstance.