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?
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….