Most of us remember what it is like in the lunchroom. After you get your lunch you scan the room for a table to sit where you will feel welcome. Adolescence can be a season of devastating insecurity, and the lunchroom can shine a spotlight on your loneliness. Kids are just waiting for someone to shine and share the Gospel with them.
I have spent a lot of time in lunch rooms with kids. Today as much as ever we must not abandon the lunch room and other places kids hang out. We need brave young leaders who are willing to go into the world of kids to be authentic representatives of Jesus. A song by John Michael Talbot casts a compelling biblical vision for those who might go offer the Bread of Life of the Gospel to kids in middle schools, high schools, and colleges:
Come to the table He’s prepared for you
The bread of forgiveness, the wine of release
Come to the table and sit down beside Him
The Savior wants you to join in the feast,,,
And here at the table, sit those who have loved you
One is a traitor and one will denyBut He’s lived his life for them all
And for all be crucified (John Michael Talbot song, “Come to the Table”)
REMEMBER THE LUNCHROOM SO YOU DON’T LOSE YOUR HEART FOR ADOLESCENTS & THE GOSPEL
Imagine carting your lunch tray out of the food line and as you look over the crowd you see a popular kid smile at you. With the wave of his hand he invites you to come sit at his table. You probably feel awkward. Like crossing the street you look side to side wondering if he is waving at you. Glancing back, you see his eyes look right at you. He nods and beckons you to come sit next to him. Sheepishly approaching his table, his friends shift a bit to make room for you. And they all give you a warm welcome. This is a picture of the Good News of Jesus. It symbolizes the ministry of reconciliation Jesus has given to his disciples to share with the world through warm hospitality.
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1)
WHEN SOMEONE INVITED ME TO THE TABLE
When I was I was in high school, this scene happened to me, but it happened on a soccer field, not the lunch room….
“I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not.” – Jim Elliot
Like the priests who took the first steps to lead Israel into the icy waters of the Jordan River (Joshua 3), young leaders today need to be apprenticed toward brave new leadership. When you take into account the huge youth population bulges in many nations coupled with geopolitical instability likely for decades to come, vanguard student ministry organizations and churches committed to introducing more kids to Jesus must start thinking more about strategic sustainability. Strategic sustainability implies health and growth even in the midst of unpredictability. To achieve this you must have a principle-driven leadership training framework.
At the center of any strategy to influence wide swaths of young people of any nation is to identify, train, and empower younger leaders. In this post I’m not writing to just any leader, I’m addressing those young leaders, organizations, and churches out there who dream about changing the next generation with the Gospel. As I look at young leaders in the Bible who stand out as models for us to follow today, Daniel rises to the top.
LEADERSHIP TRAINING MUST ADAPT, RE-EDUCATE, AND RE-TRAIN
Daniel provides a clear pathway for leaders to expand their influence more broadly. We can’t rely on cultural norms to provide an incubator for basic leadership understanding anymore. Churches and mission organizations must pioneer the way and in many ways re-educate and re-train their younger leaders who want to serve. We can’t make assumptions anymore. We must have much more than mere skills training. Instead, leadership training must involve a combination of education+training+apprenticeship. That will be the foundation of strategic sustainability for student ministry organizations in a world of fracturing cultural norms.
Daniel had four remarkable qualities that broadened his leadership: COMPREHENSIVE KNOWLEDGE, CHARACTER, COMPETENCE, and an ability to CONNECT people to God by using his spiritual gifts. These four qualities are the mark of catalytic leaders. Now lets look at each of them in context…
If you are a college student, student ministry leader, or parent of a college student I want you to read this post. College is a window of opportunity. With just a bit of intentionality your college ministry experience could be the difference between a bowl of oatmeal and a Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipping cream. Our college campuses are of course intensely secular places, but there’s really nothing new about that. Followers of Jesus have always been on the outside, a little strange in comparison to the dominant culture. Yet one thing that does seem different today on college campuses is the scale of erosion in the soil of Christian community.
The concern is that without context, it is hard for a young believer to grow and progress in Christ. Without an adequate alternative culture of Jesus-loving friends around you, there is a good chance you will be impacted more by the dominant culture around you, rather than you impacting it. Context to live out our faith is absolutely crucial.
Adolescents have to work really hard in their education to build a foundation of knowledge, character, and experience. Parents have the hindsight to understand just how important a Middle School and High School education is, so we can serve the pre-teens and teenagers in our lives with a compelling vision for the “why” behind all of the hard work.
The more I work with adolescents and raise a few of my own, I realize that adolescents and adults are not that different from one another. In particular, we both desperately need to be reminded of the “why” behind what we do. We can all get bored, distracted, or even depressed for lack of vision (Proverbs 29:18). But when we are inspired by vision, we tend to get back that enthusiasm God created us to have and we press forward with hope and purpose for our future. Here’s how…
Parents (and grandparents) are an absolutely vital part of your student ministry. This is true of middle school, high school, and in some ways even college ministry. Regardless of their faith, whether Believers or non-believers, parents of teenagers are still the primary gatekeepers for their kid’s involvement in your student ministry. And even parents of college students, who may not really be a “gatekeeper” any longer, can still be a catalytic advocate for your ministry.
In the grand scheme of things, your relationships with parents may be just as important as your relationship with students. Parents enhance your student ministry by giving you ideas, feedback, resources, and prayer. Your whole ministry will benefit from parents who are appropriately involved as advocates, especially among other parents.
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. -Matthew 9:37-38
Some people are called to full time vocational ministry. If you have an insatiable draw toward missions or ministry that you just can’t shake, then maybe God is calling you. There will always be a need for cross-cultural missions until Jesus comes back. Missions is temporary. When Christ returns, there will be no more missions, that window will be closed. Yet right now it is wide open. There is a famine for the Word of God on every continent, and the Holy Spirit is raising up men, women, and young people from just about every nation to lay their lives down for Jesus to advance the Good News. And some of those whom he calls will be sent out as full time workers for his Kingdom.
Confucius is one of China’s most revered sages. Although he lived and taught his disciples somewhere around 551-479 B.C., Confucianism is still the most popular philosophy in China today. The context of Confucius’ rise in popularity is interesting. Times were chaotic and quite violent in China at the time of his professional life. There were great divides between classes and clans and this was disturbing to Confucius because it weakened society and created distrust and poverty. He grew up with minimal personal family connection so this seemed to create a vacuum in his own heart for connectedness and the benefits of a tight-knit family. Understanding his background helps us understand where the deep roots of his philosophy came from.
Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it. – Winston Churchill
It is a common tendency to look back at the good old days with nostalgia, thinking “those people really had it right.” I actually think this is better than looking back with condescending criticalness of people or eras that we don’t fully understand. But there is also value, if handled gracefully, to look back at the good old days and see where people may have gone off course. We don’t do this to blame or put ourselves above them, on the contrary, we need to be honest with the past mainly because we are more like them today than we are different from them. We look back with a wondering eye not out of pride, saying “look how much smarter we are,” but instead we look back saying, “I know that I/we are more like people of antiquity than we are different from them, so maybe I can learn something from where they missed the mark or veered off course.”
Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us therefore study the incidents in this as philosophy to learn wisdom from and none of them as wrongs to be avenged. – Abraham Lincoln
Student ministry in Asia