been thinking a lot lately of what student ministry at its core really is. back when i was a student in high school it didn’t seem like youth ministry was as big a “machine” as it is today. what we have today is certainly not bad… in fact i’m thankful for the hundreds of conference/training options, books, resources, blogs, podcasts, etc. out there. but as anything grows and matures, it can lose (at least for me) the essence of what it was created to do in the first place.
here was my experience 15 years ago when i was in high school, and how our church’s non-complex student ministry literally transformed my life. this is what it’s really all about:
1. we had a bunch of caring adult leaders around, and one of them in particular pouring into me. they were there every wednesday night. playing ping-pong, joking around with other teens, introducing themselves to the new kid, asking me about my world, and organizing a pickup basketball game at the park right afterwards. most of them knew me and i knew they all cared about me. but there was one who went beyond the others. he took a special interest in me, met up with me every week outside of Wednesday nights. we emailed, talked on the phone, hung out, and simply did life together. rubbing shoulders together as we went through everyday life made a profound impact on me, greater than any one event or amazing youth talk. and the coolest thing… he wasn’t even the youth pastor!
2. i was given chances to lead. our youth leaders saw potential in me, and created space for me to lead. i know many nights the program bombed because of me, and i dropped the ball. they could have done the job better and quicker without me, but they saw a value in me holding the mic or writing the encouragement card. i still remember giving the announcements, running tech, and greeting other teens at the door, and for a self-righteous stuck up teen like myself, i needed an opportunity to see beyond myself.
3. we had an extremely safe crowd program. wednesday nights at our church was the place to be if you were a teenager in our little city surrounded by cornfields. there were always new teens there, and i still remember our youth pastor arriving each week in his beat-up, old truck with a bunch of students from the community. he even transported a kid in a wheelchair more times than i can count. the crowd was everywhere on the spiritual spectrum, and i still remember the nervous looks on the some of the older church members’ faces from time to time when they would walk in. there was laughter, learning, worship, and a strong challenge to follow Jesus harder.
no matter how complex and involved student ministry today becomes, i hope we always have these 3 components coming through loud and clear!