Mission Vision

The mission statement is a driving force with any missional community.  See our friend Alex Absalom’s post on mission vision.

In missional student ministry the mission looks slightly different than most missional communities.  For example, the mission statement of a missional community that feels the call to a nursing home would look something like:

  • To provide friendship and a relationship, in Christ’s name, with the residents of XYZ Nursing Home through various activities and events on a bi-weekly basis.

Everyone in that missional community feels the same call to the mission.

Now, with a missional student ministry, there almost needs to be 2 mission statements.  By this I mean, the leaders within the missional community need to feel the call to invest in students lives (having their own statement from that calling) and the role of the leaders should be to develop a mission statement within the students (students should have their own mission statement so-to-speak).  It looks like this:

  • As leaders, we are called to the students (leader mission statement derives from that)
  • As leaders, we want to equip students to go to other students around them (student mission statement derives from that)
As leaders within a missional student ministry, we can only reach so many students.  The students must have their own mission.
– more to come on this in a later post –

Crap is Fertilizer

TENSION

There is a tension that exists between students being themselves and students behaving the right way. This is not a problem to be solved, but a tension to be managed. 

One of the things that we have observed over time is that students who feel too much behavioral pressure can’t be themselves and as a result no real change or transformation takes place in their life.

It’s sort of like when you want to have a good conversation with a student – an authentic talk about life and struggles, and instead of a good conversation what you end up with is the student just giving you the answers they think you want to hear.  They couldn’t be themselves, they felt pressure to give the “right” answers and therefore there wasn’t any substance to your conversation.

So in our student ministry we decided to allow students to take off the masks and stop pretending and simply be themselves. Instead of trying to get them to conform behaviorally, we focus on honesty and start with their heart and then work our way out to behavior. Which sounds like a reasonable plan…. until you’ve got students smoking in the parking lot or dropping  F-bombs in front of old women. Then what happens is people say “we gotta get these kids to act right, to have respect”.  It’s in that moment that we are faced with a common student ministry dilemma… “do we want students to be accepted or act the right way?”  There is a tension that exists between students being themselves and students behaving the right way. This is not a problem to be solved, but a tension to be managed. 

SAFE

What parents want  is for their kids to grow in their faith, and to be in a safe environment. The difficulty is that “safe environment” often really means that everyone is behaving the “right way”.   This type of environment, where students can not be themselves, and everyone behaves the right way because they are pressured to, is a sterile environment.   It’s clean and germ free…. you won’t hear any jokes about oral sex, but ultimately it’s sterile.   “Houston, we have a problem”…  A sterile environment doesn’t allow anything to grow. In fact the opposite is true, the best fertilizer, the thing that promotes the most growth is Manure….

CRAP

It’s the mess of life that brings about the most growth.  So let the mess come out.  Instead of asking students to behave the right way every single time, allow them to be themselves, which is messy.  Create an environment that allows students to be themselves and all the ugly stuff will surface. Let the crap come to the top and when it does  view it as an opportunity to love students and speak into their lives.  Don’t just talk about grace, show them grace. This is what helps students become more like Jesus.

MANAGE

Don’t get me wrong, as disciples it does matter how we live. We are often challenged in scripture to live a life worthy of our calling. In our student ministry we do have boundaries, but not to the point that students can’t be who they are. We have processed through what boundaries we have – what we allow and do not allow. And we will continue to manage the tension. It changes a little each year. I would encourage you to consider how you will manage this tension.  A good question to ask is “does the answer to this tension look differently in a missional context?”   Just remember, it’s not a problem to be solved.

Missional and Middle School.

Over the past year we have launched missional communities in our high school ministry. It’s been exciting to see them take off and watch students move closer to Jesus. Up until last year it took us  some time to see what God was doing and how He was leading us. We went from Epic Failure to Epic Failure trying to follow Jesus…. I guess we’re just knuckleheads that way.  Right now, things feel very much the same as we examine our middle school ministry. We can see Jesus doing something and we are right in the middle of discerning how He would lead us forward. Which I suspect is how many of you feel as well!  As Suit said in his last post,  there are some developmental hurdles that we think make MC’s tricky with middle school students. To this point though there are a few things we are clear on when it comes to middle school and missional, one of which I will share now.

Environment is Everything

The greatest thing that you can do to help build a missional student ministry is create an open environment. I’m not talking about having greeters, and I’m not talking about having a “friendly” group.  What I am suggesting is that if students  do not feel like they can be themselves in your student ministry, then you are going to have a difficult time transitioning to a more missional focus.

A couple years ago I was feeling very frustrated with our middle school meetings. We had a ton of students coming, new ones were invited every week by their friends and there was a buzz in the local middle school about our ministry. I was frustrated because the students were disrespectful, particularly when we would share from the front. Then, at a home football game I had a kairos moment. There was a moment of silence to remember 9/11. The crowd settled and became quiet, but over my right shoulder I heard a rumbling of voices and yelling. I turned and saw the middle school section, filled with students talking, goofing around and generally being disrespectful. The middle school was a mob, and that mob was our ministry.  I realized in that moment, that one reason we were having difficulties was because students felt comfortable enough to be themselves.  God encouraged me under the Friday night lights that our ministry was close to His heart. Students felt loved and valued, and could simply be themselves.  There is a tension that exists between students being themselves and students behaving the right way. 

Assessing your environment

So here are a couple questions to get you started as you consider your ministry environment. Remember the point “Can students be themselves?” You might have to pray through some of these.

  • If you had to choose between  students behaving the right way or being themselves what would you choose?…. pray about that one.
  • When you ask questions do you find that students share what they think or do they simply share the “correct answer”?
  • Do you care more about students or the condition of your building?… again, pray.
  • What happens in your group when a student cusses?
  • What is your own attitude towards those who do not know Jesus? How is this reflected in the environment you have created?

Final Thought

I’m sure some of your buttons have been pushed. That’s Good. There is a tension that exists between students that behave the right way and students that are themselves.  As Andy Stanley has said, “some tensions should be managed rather than resolved”. I think this is one of those situations. As folks who lead students we have to wrestle with this….

Why High School?

Why we do missional communities for high school students and not for middle school:

This has to do simply with the age of the students and where they are at in their development.  Generally middle school students, as Jean Piaget would classify them, are still in a “concrete operational” stage.  This means that they can think and process concrete objects and events that they observe.  Because of this middle school students tend to learn and grow best when surrounded by a large group of peers.  When middle school students are able to share a common experience or event they are able to process the concrete things that they observed in the experience or event.  This is why props, skits, tangible worship experiences, and visual lessons play such a crucial role in a middle school student’s spiritual growth (definitely not underplaying the relational aspect that middle school students need to have with leaders at this age – it is probably more important for middle school students to be in relationships with those older than them than for high school students).  So, with that being said, usually a relational structure that has these concrete tangibles in them tend to have the most “success” with the middle school age.

Now, with high school students, Jean Piaget would put them in the developmental category he calls “Formal Operational.”  This means that at this age students are able to process abstract ideas, theories, and hypotheses that are presented to them.  This generally takes place in more of a discussion/conversation oriented environment.  Therefore, the missional community setting fits great with this.  Because such a big part of student missional communities are discussions about what God is speaking/doing in our lives it fits perfectly with helping the students process the things they are wrestling with in their journey with God.

In fact, we are finding that they are starting to thrive more in the “Social Space” (20-50 people aka Missional Community size) and even “Personal Space” (3-12 people), as Edward T. Hall labels it.  Whereas, at the middle school age, they tend to thrive more in the Public Space setting.

High school students tend to be over the skits and games (for the most part).  They want the conversations about life and about God as they try to figure out who they are and who God is calling them to be.  Also, they want to feel the sense of purpose in their life.  The MISSION within the missional community gives the high school student some of that purpose that they are looking for.

So, based on trial and error and various theories we have read such as Hall and Piaget we have found that doing missional communities for the high school students has been the most effective.

Should I stay? or Should I go?

In the words of those great philosophers the Clash.

Should I stay or should I go now? 
Should I stay or should I go now? 
If I go there will be trouble , An’ if I stay it will be double

So come on and let me know!”

Who knew an 80’s punk band could have such wisdom!?

If I go there will be trouble.

Going involves difficulty. The world of middle school and high school students is messy and meeting them in their world means we will be in the middle of the mess.  It’s trouble, but it’s worth it. I’m reminded of a student a number of years ago I spent a lot of time with.  One night at our ministry  I found out he was riding his bike to our meetings(5  miles one way) which took him across two bridges. I wasn’t comfortable with him riding that far,  so I offered to pick him up each week. I asked for his home phone number, but he couldn’t give it to me because he didn’t know it. His mom would not allow him to have it. So we made an agreement; I would pick him up on my way home from work each week. And that’s what we did –  every week. I would pick him up and take him home with me, we would make and then eat dinner together and then head off to our ministry. It was messy, but it was meaningful. For the first time this high school guy actually  experienced (not just heard about) the love Jesus has to offer.  I’m not sure what sort of mess you’ll find yourself in, but if you GO and you teach your students to GO,  I can guarantee you it will be messy, but meaningful.

If I stay there will be double.

Staying involves double the trouble, because staying  removes our mission which also removes meaning and purpose.  What’s the point of that? Which is exactly what students wonder. Why follow Jesus if he is not calling me to something bigger than myself?

GOing is what brings purpose to knowledge.  Imagine for a moment that you are being taught how to fly a helicopter… humor me here… for most of us there would be no point, because we are never going to actually fly a helicopter. As a result we would not be too engaged during our lesson. However, if we knew that in just a few days we would be expected to fly a helicopter and our families would be the passengers the instructor would have our complete attention. Mission brings meaning to knowledge.  GOing – actually having to let Jesus lead us and having an expectation that He will use us – gives meaning to the knowledge  and faith we have of Jesus and produces disciples that are becoming like Jesus.

“Staying” on the other hand produces double trouble.   How can a group of people who are trying to become like Jesus, stay? It’s an oxymoron. Two things that can’t possibly go together.   When students are involved in a youth ministry that “stays” rather than GOing I generally have seen two results. Either students become apathetic, because “what’s the point?” or  students become pharisaic.  The latter use the knowledge they have gained to elevate themselves and point out how everyone else is wrong and they are in the right.

Why Missional Communities? Part Deux

It’s a scriptural model of community and discipleship:

In Romans 16, Paul rolls through a list of people that are “doing church” and having positive effects with it.

  • Verse 5, “Also give my greeting to the church that meets in their home.”
  • Verse 10, “Greet Apelles, a good man whom Christ approves.  And give my greetings to the believers from the household of Aristobulus.”
  • Verse 11, “Greet the Lord’s people from the household of Narcissus.”
  • Verse 14, “Give my greetings to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who meet with them (household suggested).”
  • Verse 15, “Give my greetings to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and to Olympas and all the believers who meet with them (likely in a household context).”

Paul doesn’t write to these people to congratulate them on their 2.3% conversion rate, or their 15% growth rate, or for the 4% of their younger generation (stats from last post Why Missional Communities? Part Uno) that are coming to their homes.  Those are no reasons to write words of greetings and joy.  He writes with joy and passion for them because they are experiencing great growth, both spiritually and numerically, as disciples are being produced. And disciples are being produced because they are involved in each others lives, in community, and in a relational context!

This is the missional community way of ministry.  Missional Communities harbor an environment where relationships thrive.  And from the relationships discipleship happens naturally.

In a student ministry context, students are at the age where community and belonging are a crucial part of their growth and development.  If we can bring them in community with their own peers, as well as leaders that will pour into them and invest in them, discipleship cannot help but flow from that and God’s Spirit will move in a way that will cause much rejoicing.

Why Missional Communities? Part Uno

It’s no secret that the Church in America is struggling.  Discipleship, by the model of “come to our building and learn about Jesus,” isn’t working as it once did.  And not just by discipleship standards, but even church-going numbers are dropping.  In their book, Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide, Mike Breen and Alex Absalom quote Thomas Rainer’s statistics on this:

  • About 65% of the Builder Generation are in a church each week.
  • With the Boomers, it’s about 35%.
  • You will find 15% of Gen X’ers gather to a church this Sunday.
  • For Gen Y (Millennials), the oldest of whom turned 30 in 2010, it’s only 4%.

If you are called to this generation of students the stat “it’s only 4%” needs to set off many alarms!  We cannot allow this to continue.  But what needs to change?  What methods need tweeked?  Where do we go from here?

Mike Breen, in a recent blog post quotes some Barna Research group statistics on church attendance:

  • 4,000 churches will close this year
  • Only 1,5oo churches will successfully launch (that’s an 80% failure rate)
  • Only 15% of American churches are growing
  • Of those that are growing, only 2.3% are growing through conversion.  The rest is transfer growth
  • Just half of the 200,000 viable churches in America added even 1 new member through conversion last year

So, maybe the answer to those questions is in the method of how “church” is done.  It’s quite apparent that the effectiveness of the church, as we know it, from an attractional standpoint, is not producing disciples of Christ as it should.

We started asking those questions even from a student ministry view.  If the way of doing “church” isn’t as effective in producing disciples then is the way we do student ministry (from a similar attractional model) effective?

As we look at scripture we see discipleship occur in the relationship between Jesus and the disciples.  The key there is “in the relationship.”  Jesus calls the disciples to follow him (Mt. 4), gives them authority to do the miraculous (Mt. 10), invites them to join in on the craziness (Mt. 14 – Peter joins Jesus on the water), teaches them, has meals with them (Mt. 26), and it goes on and on.  In a nutshell, Jesus DOES LIFE with them.  If Jesus’ model of discipleship is based on relationships, then how do we most effectively do that in a student ministry context?  How do we DO LIFE with students as Christ did life with the disciples?

On top of that, Jesus didn’t just hang out with the disciples and do life with them, leaving it at that.  He sent them on a mission.  There was purpose and intentionality in the times they spent together.  Whether it was in the healings, the preaching, the journeys into towns, or the praying for others – they were on a mission together.  The mission they were on was always evolved around the Kingdom.  In Matthew 28, the Great Commission, Jesus tells the disciples to GO, make disciples, and do life with them!  He sent them on a mission.  Again in Acts 1, Jesus’ last words for them was to GO and be His witnesses.  He sent them on a mission.  A mission to advance the Kingdom.

So where does this idea relationship and intentional mission fuse together in a ministry context?  This is where the missional community way of student ministry comes into play…