by Nate Reeves
Calendars. I love many things in life; fall weather, coffee, watching The Office through nine times and counting on Netflix, but a calendar is not one of these loves. Here is a big reason why, particularly as a youth pastor: it shows me how little time that we (the church) have with a student. A student that plays just one sport these days is now year-round. Participating in just one thing at school means practice, camp weeks, car washes/fundraisers, not to mention the actual games. In the nine years that I have been doing student ministry, it feels like the window of a students’ availability has been decreasing. Now, it would be foolish to blame anyone for these schedules, but instead just understand that this is the reality that we live in. Knowing this, how are we being more intentional with the time we have? What are the most important things we want students to know?
Looking back the past few years, everything that we did seemed to be the best thing for our students and the ministry. We did our events how we always do them, our programming how we always do them, our global trips how they have always been done, and things seemed like they should be this way. We did small groups with a consistent leader, brought in teachers and musicians that understood our end goal, communicated color-coordinated calendars to leaders and parents, and got buy-in from our staff. Yet, as intentional as we were with the timing of these events, why they existed, and how we did them, we felt like something was missing. So, what were we missing?
After a lot of off-site planning, strategy, and prayer, we felt that our outreach and service to others needed to increase. We made the decision to create a way for more students to serve. We implemented some things, and had some incredible results and impact:
- 60 percent of small group leaders in children’s ministry were middle or high school students.
- Five teams of students (37 students) were on a regular rotation to lead our students and children during our worship time.
- We had two trips a year with students being sent to our global partner ministry in Guatemala during spring and summer breaks.
Our students were serving globally and within the walls of our church. However, we knew we could and should do more within the community where we live. Our community impact team has developed incredible partnerships within the city of Indianapolis, and we were about to be invested in a way we have never done before.
Beginning last year, we decided to take on a weekly after-school tutoring program with a failing school in the city of Indianapolis. Our youth ministry (in the suburbs) along with a partner church (in the city), began working together for the goal of bringing dignity to every child. Here is a video of our high school students that were a part of this after-school tutoring that is now in its second year:
As church leaders, if we hope for students to gain a bigger understanding of loving their neighbor, we need to give them bigger opportunities that allow them to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Since this tutoring began, we have had four students change the course of their future plans for the sake of service.
There are many different strategies out there on how to cultivate a culture of service for student ministry, but here are three things that worked for us.
- Ask for a big commitment with a clearly defined “why.” We are often intimidated by asking for something big, because of what I said earlier with the busyness of families. However, it’s like anything else, even if your numbers are not where you are hoping, at least you all know that everyone who is serving is there for the same reason. Our commitment is every Wednesday for each semester for three hours. Our why, is to bring dignity to all people.
- Partner up with someone who knows what they are doing. If someone around your town or city is doing something to reach the impoverished, local school, etc., in your area, join their efforts if it’s something you can get behind. For us, we had people who already made connections at this school, and so we let them tell us what was needed for these students. This allowed our students to see the power of development (relationship) for people instead of seeing them as a “relief effort.”
- Prepare your students to be okay with feeling unprepared. In a never-ending land of structure, this has certainly given them a culture shock. There were some weeks we did not do what we thought we would. Some weeks, their student was not there. Some weeks it got cancelled at the last minute. If they get opportunities to see that the world outside of where there neighbor lives is drastically different from where they live, that is a good thing.
We had a fifth-grade girl come up to our students on the first day this year for our tutoring, and give them a huge hug. This fifth-grade girl told our students that she was so happy they were back again this year. She told them, the picture that they all took together at the end of the year last spring, is on her dresser at home. Our students were shocked by that—shocked that they’d had that much of an impact on her, and shocked to figure out how big of a deal it is when you really love your neighbor.
As leaders of students, we have a lot that we need to say, and a short amount of time to do it in. I want to encourage us to consider moving in a direction that allows students to experience transformation not only for themselves, but for others. I think it’s more than worth our effort. Students can change the world, and they are changing our culture at our church, not just in our student ministry. Let’s let them lead.
Nate Reeves is the Students Team Leader at Connection Pointe Christian Church in Brownsburg, Indiana. His favorite thing in the world is to engage both parents and small group leaders into the lives of their teenagers. His wife Brooke, and their dog, Crosley, make up the Reeves home. It has made for a beautiful life in Indiana.