Two things that every teenager can identify with are a lack of hope and a deep sense of loneliness. Joy is the remedy, but how do you find it?
LACK OF HOPE
When classes get hard, school seems totally pointless, friends betray you, you get cut from a team or fail a quiz… all of this can make a teenager feel hopeless. Hope is when a person has reason to believe something good is going to happen to them. Teenagers, because of the roller coaster of emotions and disloyalty among peer relationships, often do not feel like anything good is going to happen to them today, or tomorrow. Because emotions are heightened in adolescence, it is not uncommon for them to either hate or love school, depending on the day or month. This is a normal pattern, but it is not a helpful one. Those of us who really love teenagers can do something to help our teenage friends experience hope even if their circumstances stink.
Because everyone wants to feel included, teenagers tend to run in small packs. Unfortunately to preserve their sense of belonging they often cut down or make fun of other kids who are not in their group. The devastation of this pattern is insecurity for just about everyone. When a kid cuts someone down or does not show mercy toward someone who messed up, the result is deeper loneliness because everyone intrinsically knows that they are no better than anyone else. Eventually this “pack mentality” catches up with everyone. Each of us will mess up and get made fun of or ridiculed, its just a matter of time.
So how do you break out of this vicious cycle, and maybe help another teenager get free from this joyless trap of loneliness and fleeting hope?
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.
In my recent post, 12 Steps to Making You a Better Speaker or Teacher, I provide a simple pathway for how to develop a student ministry talk that will connect with your audience and communicate the Gospel in a language that they can understand. When you speak to a group of college, high school, or middle school students, you want to get them excited about Jesus and curious about how the Bible will radically impact their life. You want them to see how they can turn the world upside down by following Jesus. This is our goal, but it also takes some work to grow in your speaking skills.
Felix speaking in the Philippines
GREAT TEAMS KNOW HOW TO ASSIMILATE NEW TEAM MEMBERS
After reading, would you be willing to share this and offer a comment below? I respond to each comment.
Each semester it is common for a student ministry team to add a new leader or two. It is rare for teams to remain static for too long and it is actually a sign of health in your recruitment and training strategy if you are regularly adding new leaders on your youth ministry or college ministry team. God is constantly at work raising up new laborers for his harvest field so it is really important to have a plan for assimilating new leaders on your team:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ – Matthew 9:36-38).
All of us have been “new” to a team at some point so it should be easy for us to relate. But in reality it takes discipline to keep reminding yourself how others might be feeling like an outsider. It is helpful to step back and put yourself in a new team members shoes. This greatly improves your ability to help them assimilate to your team.
Student ministry is one of those vocations that sometimes perplexes people. I often get asked, “So what do you do?” I love it when people ask me that because it gives me a free 30 seconds or so to promote and advocate for what I believe is one of the most important ministry priorities for any church or para church. I want to see every young person in every city of the world have an opportunity to meet Jesus, grow in their faith, and to grow as a leader to impact more young people in their arena of influence.
I came to Christ as a high school kid through Young Life and then served for 15 years on staff with YL in Arizona, Colorado, and New Zealand.
T-Shirts & Hats are Great Conversation Starters
Conversation starters are one of the most important skills to learn in student ministry. Coming up with a good conversation starter to meet a new person can be one of the hardest parts of student ministry. One of my favorite ways of how to start a conversation with a new person is simple: Look at people’s hats and t-shirts. They give you free information about something they might care about. Whether their hat or t-shirt has the name of a college, team, or brand, it is an easy way to strike up a conversation.
For example: if their hat or t-shirt has the name of a team on it, ask them, “How do you think (the team on their shirt) is going to do this year?” Or if their shirt has a brand on it like, Patagonia, you can ask them, “Hey, how do you like Patagonia gear? Does it hold up? I’ve been thinking of getting a Patagonia jacket for a while, what do you think?”
This is one the easiest ways to start a conversation. And who knows, that little conversation could be the first stitch in the fabric of a relationship that God may have opened up to lead that person to Jesus. So give it a try!
Love without conversation is impossible. –Mortimer Adler
After reading this, would you be willing to share this and offer a comment below? I respond to each comment.
I remember meeting the philosopher, Mortimer Adler when I was a middle school kid in Aspen, CO. And the one thing I remember about him, besides he is really smart, is that he talked to me, even though I was probably the youngest person in the room. In all my years of student ministry, I believe if you can learn just 3 skills you will impact more students than you can possibly dream of. If you want to have a dynamic student ministry then simply help your leadership team excel in these areas and then the rest is gravy. I’ve attached at the end of this post a 1 page resource you can download that will help you keep meeting new students and following up with them well.
1 – BEING THERE
You may be able to recruit people to serve in your student ministry. You may even be able to get them to commit to training. But to get them to commit to going to a middle school, high school, or college campus 1-2 times a week to meet students and build relationships is what separates the prairie dogs from the pandas.
Leading teams requires meetings. Hopefully not too many of them, but you can’t organize movement and growth of a team of people without regular time together to accomplish unity in vision, clarity of strategy, and rehearsal of tactics that will work.
TEAM MEETINGS MUST UNIFY YOUR TEAM ON IT’S VISION
Visionary leaders see clearly where they are going and constantly remind their team, with very simple words and word pictures what that vision is (i.e. a vision statement). If the vision of your team is a bit mirky for the team leader, then you can expect that the vision will be muddy for the rest of your team. By contrast if the team leader has a very clear vision that they talk about all of the time, then they can expect that even if the vision is a bit cloudy their team is still onboard. The Great Commission is a classic example of how Jesus encapsulated his Kingdom vision into a memorable vision statement that has obviously changed the world ever since:
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ -Matthew 28:18-2-0
In her recent book, In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea, Crystal Kirgiss accomplishes a profoundly important goal: Defining adolescence as a special stage of maturity that deserves special attention from adults who care to see them mature in Christ.