Thousands of students, leaders, parents and ministry volunteers will descend upon Lexington to hear great Christian artists in a one-of-a-kind concert venue. I have been to Winter Jam numerous times as a youth pastor and volunteer and have always had a blast. We are bringing our boys this year…and ear plugs.
During the Jam Zone, I have chance to spend time encouraging parents and leaders in a training session called “The 6 Gotta-Haves in Student Ministry Today.” This session is designed to encourage, inform and equip parents and leaders while they are waiting for the concert to begin that evening.
To be truthful, I am a little nervous. I have been out of the student ministry game for sometime. The last time I can say I was an official youth minister on a church staff was 2003. That’s 12 years in the rear-view mirror. Wow, time has flown by.
Even though I teach a Youth Ministry class every two years at CU, I am recognizing how quickly student ministry is changing around me. I do my best to stay up on all the changes, reading books, engaging in the online discussion, tracking trends and demographics, yet I still find myself scratching my head when someone asks, “What do we need to do to reach teenagers today?”
So to frame that answer (and prepared for the upcoming conference), I believe I would reply “You gotta-have six ‘Gs.’ Six gotta-haves in student ministry today.
1. GUTS – Student ministry is not for the faint at heart. You have to have passion, conviction, courage, and determination to enter into this ministry field. Teenagers and their parents can be wonderful to serve, but they can also be complicated and complex to understand.
2. GAMEPLAN – Student ministry does not work without a strategy, a calendar, and a system of organization. Unfortunately many student pastors have attempted and failed to lead their students by the seat of their pants. In the end, the students are frustrated. The parents are put out. The church staff is wondering how to move this leader on. Nobody wins, everyone looses. So we much have a plan. Work the plan. Adjust the plan. Evaluate the plan.
3. G-PAs & G-MAs (aka Grandparents) or better yet GENERATIONS – You gotta-have other generations speaking into the lives of our students. Our American culture is fragmenting young people more and more. They desperately need intergenerational relationships to grow up more balanced and capable of social interaction. There is no question, students need their parents to be invested in their lives. However, they also need other wise, non-family relationships just as much. One of the great failures of youth ministry of the 90’s & early 2000’s was isolation from other generations. Thank goodness we have corrected that terrible mistake.
4. GOALS – Along with the game plan, student ministry leaders must have goals they are working toward. Ministry leadership is easily swayed by the emergencies of life and the bumps along the road resulting in leaders who cannot stay focused, cannot complete a task, and cannot work through a to-do list. Those “interruptions” are part of the deal; everyone in ministry knows this. But quality leadership also requires diligence, excellence, and persistence. Having 3-5 God-directed goals each year helps focus your attention and your mission.
5. GOSPEL – This should really be first on the list. You must have a ministry centered in the Good News of Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation. We gotta-have the Gospel that clearly states God is holy, we are sinful, and Jesus is the only answer. In a world of rampant relativism, pluralism, secularism, postmodernism, and every other “ism” you can imagine, student ministry leaders can never shy away from the Gospel of Jesus. It is why we do what we do.
6. GROUP – The term “youth group” seems out-dated and cheesy to many of us. We always wanted our student ministries to be more than just a “group” of kids that met in the church basement and played a bunch of games. We wanted the student ministry to have substance, meaning, purpose, intentionality and value to the larger congregation and the kingdom of God.
Yet, no matter how much you dislike the word, the student ministry still needs to be a group. A group that is open to unbelieving students. A group that is welcoming to parents and grandparents. A group that is focused on discipling younger believers toward maturity in Christ. A group that find strength from being together. A group where honest questions can be asked and honest answers given in return. A group that functions within the larger body of the church, but also has a uniqueness to it as it ministers to teenagers.
As much as we may want to get away from the word “group,” student ministry is still a very important group within the family of God.
Six gotta-haves. Guts. Gameplan. Generations. Goals. Gospel. Group. This is what I will be sharing at Winter Jam. I hope the leaders are encouraged and challenged.
G-words that didn’t make the list and probably should be banned from student ministry altogether: gimmicks, goofiness, gag-gifts, and game-show host youth ministers.