If I were to ask you what role the student ministry plays within the life of your local church, how would you answer? Would they be the next generation of the church, separated off during corporate worship times? Would they be incorporated into the church without the opportunity to gather together exclusively with others in their age group? I ask these questions because these are the questions I’ve been asking myself as I evaluate my ministry in this time apart.
In the first example above, we see the students separated without meaningful connections to the church. If we isolate students from the rest of the gathered church, we are taking away opportunities to have their lives shaped by other adults in the body. As a student minister, it’s my job to think of ways to create meaningful connections within the collective church body.
The distance placed between many student ministries and church bodies usually begins with good intentions. Maybe we are trying to create a more welcoming environment for teens. Maybe the worship schedule at the church is crowded, so the only youth gathering can happen while the adults are in the worship service. Maybe the only available gathering area is in a separate building, making it more difficult to feel like a part of the church. Whatever the reason may be, this time apart is the time to reevaluate our programming to help better connect our teens to other adults in the church. We have an incredible opportunity to reboot out ministries, incorporating more student and adult interaction! Here are three reasons why:
1. Teenagers Benefit from the Life Experiences of Adults
Both teens and older adults feel hesitant to interact with one another. I’ve heard the reasoning many times, always from a good heart- someone feels hesitant to volunteer in the ministry because they’re concerned they can’t relate to students. As we grow older and mature, God gives us more stories to share with others. We receive stories of His faithfulness provision, goodness, and grace. These stories are powerful to teenagers, often drawing them in and serving as the foundation for many conversations.
Many stories revolve around the difficult decisions teenagers have to face. While today’s culture is significantly different than it was even ten years ago, many of the big decisions remain the same. By connecting teens with older adults, students have an opportunity to hear how these decisions made (or didn’t make) that big of a difference. There’s an opportunity to learn from mistakes or wrong decisions. There’s also an opportunity to encourage students towards faithfulness, rooted in an adult’s desire to share what they wished they knew at that age.
2. We Have an Opportunity to Train Students to Lead
Teenagers who trust in Jesus for salvation have a part to play in the church. They need adults who are willing to take the time to train them and teach them what it means to use their gifts to serve others. The encouragement from a caring adult is powerful. These words of life are useful in the spiritual formation of young believers.
As a minister of the gospel, I’m always working myself out of a job. This truth extends to all of us. We all need to be training up those who will replace us. When we hold on to our roles within the church with clenched fists, we are keeping some of the most gifted and passionate individuals from being able to serve. Instead of seeking to hold on to our positions for our own good, we have an opportunity to show young people what it looks like to serve in humility.
3. A Unified Church Displays the Gospel to the World Around Us.
What other mission could possibly unite people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and age like the gospel of Jesus Christ? In a culture where teenage rebellion is normalized, we have an opportunity to display the uniting power of the gospel to a world full of unbelievers.
Whether it’s leading the people of God in worship through music, serving on the audio/visual team, greeting, setting up and tearing down, teenagers and adults serving together displays the glory of God. Consider how you might plug your students into service opportunities during church events and as we begin the slow transition back towards the normal weekly gathering.