Saturday, December 30, 2006

Is There a Place for Students in Your Church?

Mark Yaconelli in his book Youth Ministry: A Contemplative Approach said, "If we are to keep young people involved in the church and if we are to renew our congregations, we first must acknowledge that many of our current forms of youth ministry are destructive"

There are many difficulties when it comes to church ministry, and this is one of them. Different churches respond in different ways to teenagers. Some look down on them. They think they are incapable of being responsible or doing a good job. Others value them highly but are not interested in putting in the effort to help them become contributing members of God's family. Still there is another group of churches that value them and are willing to help them become Godly men and women who contribute to the kingdom of God.

It is easy to see which of the previous three types of churches is the best, the question is which one is your church? I would suggest really reflecting on this for a while, on the surface your church may look like one and actually be another type when examined. Here are some characteristics of a church that seeks to be the third option:
  • Students are encouraged to be involved in ministry of all kinds.
  • The thought of depending on the likes of a teenager to get something done may be scary, but not scary enough that it is not done.
  • Students are not turned away from ministries where they may have talents simply because of their age. An example of this would be worship teams. Some students are very gifted, but some adults are intimidated by someone younger doing a better job.
  • Does your church allow students to use equipment that may be valuable? (sometimes it is appropriate to put limits on this kind of thing, but some churches don't even trust the youth pastor)
  • When one student makes a mistake (especially a significant one) is judgement placed on the entire program or ministry?
  • Is failure by students expected and looked at as an opportunity for growth?
  • Are the ministries students can be involved with limited to ministry with children or their own age group?
Evaluating this is not an exact science. There may be very good reason for some limitations. Still if we want students to believe they are valued and the church is interested in them then we need to communicate that message. This is one of the most difficult parts of student ministries. If we want students to graduate from High School but not from their faith it is important to show them there is a place for them in the church.

It may be the case that youth ministry has, at times, been its own worst enemy in this area (breaking things and not being responsible). This is one of the most difficult cultures to change in the church. I have tried at the churches I have ministered in to varying degrees of success. I don't know what it will take in your situation to make this a positive in your church, but it is important. I might suggest starting with the Senior Pastor.

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