Get Rhythm

It’s important to listen to Johnny Cash’s words of wisdom when he says to “Get Rhythm,” when dealing in the context of the flow of a missional student ministry.  And what I specifically mean when I mention the flow of missional student ministry is the NECESSARY BALANCE of Events and Process.

Typically, student ministry is known for being event driven.  It’s the “if we build it, they will come” mindset.  And for the most part, there is truth in that.  The weekend retreats, the mission trips, the lasertag, the conferences, the nights of worship, the big program nights, etc. are good things!  They create experiences and good moments, as well as a launching platform for relationships between students and leaders.  They also lead to opportunities for students to hear from God.  But here’s the thing – a ministry that is event driven does not give students an opportunity to process and discern what God is saying to them. Also, it creates only surface relationships between the students and leaders.  It doesn’t go anywhere.  It becomes plateaued and lacking in substance.

On the other end of this is a ministry that only does process.  It can be good for a while and feel like there is depth to the relationships, the spiritual growth, and the conversations that take place.  But eventually, it will turn itself inward, become flat, and won’t go anywhere.

Ultimately, for all of us in student ministry, our goal should be making disciples.  If Jesus only did miracles with His disciples or only spoke to them in front of large crowds, but gave them no chance to unpack and discuss what they saw or what He said, then their relationship with Him would have only had a very little amount of depth to it – and discipleship would not have occurred.  Or, if He just sat around a table and taught them about miracles and the importance of loving others, but never went out at did things with them then things would have been boring and stale – and discipleship would not have occurred.  Jesus set the agenda for the balance between Events and Process and how that directly connects with discipleship.

Discipleship should always be the gauge of your student ministry.  And discipleship is why it is important to have a balance and to “get rhythm” when it comes to the Events and Process.

5 Ways to build a GO environment

Today I’d like to lay out some simple ideas about GO. These ideas will focus more on creating an environment of GO. And then in my next post we will talk about some practical ways to help students GO.

I was reflecting today and wondered “Why is it so difficult for us to help students to GO?”  I concluded that  in student ministry we have gotten into a rut. (I once heard a friend say that a rut is “just a coffin with the ends kicked out”) For years in student ministry the way we help or encourage students to GO is either by telling them “invite your friends to our youth group” or by baking cookies at Christmas and taking them to the nursing home. While both of these are good things, and worth doing, they fall short.  I think all of us would agree that we deeply desire to see our students impacting their world. And the rut we are in hasn’t worked out too well.

So before the ideas, let’s give a quick definition of GO so we are all on the same page.

  • GO is  our relationship to the world – we enter it’s brokenness and look for a response. That response might be from an individual (who sees Jesus and follows Him) or from a system (injustice is transformed)….. GO is when we help students impact their world.
  • GO is both Witness and Service.… Students will let Jesus be seen in them by what they say and what they do. This impacts both individuals and systems.

Five Ways to Build a GO Environment:

1. Model GO.  We can’t ask students to do something we ourselves aren’t doing. If you want to see your students GO, then you must GO. Ask yourself this “Who is in my life that I am helping to see Jesus?”. And a student doesn’t count! Do you have a peer, a co-worker, a neighbor, a teammate…. who are the people Jesus has put in your life that you like and who like you? Begin to pray for that person and model GO. It will give you some personal experience, some empathy for your students, and will inspire those you lead.

2. Have a GO mentality. This is more than just asking students to invite friends. This is an attitude that we must adopt as the leaders. This attitude says “we are all meant to GO, Going is part of being one of Jesus’ disciples”. This is a mindset that as leaders we must cultivate.  I would suggest that you spend some time reflecting about how you view GO. Do you see it as just one more item on your ministry checklist?  How can you have a GO mentality?

3. Make your gatherings GO friendly. Do students enjoy your meetings? Is it the kind of place they would like to bring  peers to?  At some level our gatherings have to be enjoyable.  Fun is a good thing.  So in the context you find yourself, how can you make your meetings a place that students want to be?  We tell our middle school students “we promise to make this a place where your friends can come and you won’t be embarrassed”. That does not mean we do not challenge students spiritually, quite the opposite. But it does mean that while students are challenged, there is also plenty of time to laugh. We also tell students that once they are invited they do not need to be invited again. They are free to come and bring whomever they want.  Which frees students to see that our meetings are not exclusive, but inclusive.

4. Acknowledge the Risk of GO. There is no way around this. GOing is risky. We would be best served to acknowledge this to students. Acting like it’s no big deal is foolish. Students know it’s a big deal. For some it’s social suicide to GO. We must be honest about this with them. Acknowledging  the risk has a way of lessoning it’s grip on us.  Our goal as leaders is not to lessen the risk, but help students to GO in spite of the risk. GOing in spite of risk helps our students be more like Jesus. Alex Absalom  has a post on this that is worth reading. 

5. Be a GO Cheerleader.  We all need encouragement – to be given courage to do the difficult thing.  GOing is hard. The truth is that when we GO we get beat up and we get rejected. When this happens to your students – because if they GO it will happen – how will you respond? I think it is important to keep a healthy perspective.  I like to keep in mind that it is about the journey not the destination. When students GO they are taking a step of faith, and that step should be celebrated regardless of the result. It is in those moments of encouragement that we can also help students process how they are GOing and give gentle feedback and further direction. How will you be a cheerleader?