Are you Circling the Wagons or Charging the Hill?

Circling the Wagons is a phrase that is based on the custom of bringing wagons into a circle when they are being attacked. This strategy assumes that by creating a circle all the flanks will be protected and therefore survival is much more likely.  Put another way, the enemy can’t sneak up behind you, so you’re safer.

Often this strategy of “circling the wagons” is adopted by student ministries. We view students as being under attack (with just cause) and so we seek to protect them. We build safe student ministries, for the “good” kids, and we keep out anyone or anything that will threaten this safety. What I would suggest though is that circling the wagons, does not  make our students safe, in fact it turns them into sitting ducks.

In our student ministry we have adopted an offensive mentality. Instead of circling wagons we have chosen to charge the hill. This does come with risks and casualties, which I will discuss in a moment, but ultimately we want our students to be a part of a ministry that is moving forward and advancing the Kingdom. We want to ingrain in them that following Jesus is an adventure that involves them being used by the Holy Spirit to change the lives of the people they come in contact with. This can’t possibly happen when students are in a defensive position, seeking to protect themselves.

This is one of the reasons we do GoCo’s ( our version of MC’s). GoCo’s are built around mission and it’s the mission that encourages students to “charge the hill”. When students go after a common mission it puts them on the offensive spiritually and also allows our leaders to challenge and encourage them to be more like Jesus.  It’s the mission that creates a sense of urgency for students to grow as disciples.

As I said earlier, at times there are casualties. “Charging the hill” is difficult. The enemy isn’t going to lay down and surrender.  However, I believe there is greater risk to students who are in a defensive posture spiritually.  This risk is the picture of a disciple we are showing them.  By the way we have structured our student ministries we have created a false picture.  Being a follower of Jesus involves going and making disciples, and it’s very hard, if not impossible to “Go” when we are bunkered down in a foxhole. It’s definitely not the message we want to send to students – that following Jesus means we play it safe, protect ourselves and do not “go”.  Adopting a protection “Circle the Wagons” mentality simply does not work in making disciples of Jesus.

One final thought. Rallying students around a mission and charging the hill is not an excuse to act like an idiot.  Going for it will involve some risks, but that does not mean we should act foolishly. Choosing to GO forces us to rely on Jesus, His wisdom and on the leading of the Holy Spirit. So as we charge the hill we are also on our face seeking wisdom and guidance.

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Whoops…Try Again

In our latest post, John brought up a great point in discussing how, in a missional ministry, each context is different.  There is no cookie cutter approach because of this. Or, as he said, “there is no missional kit for sale at Wal-Mart.”  This lack of understanding was probably one of many learning curves that I had to go through when we first started our high school GoCos (short for “GoCommunities” – RiverTree term for Missional Communities).

In the fall of 2010 we launched 2 high school GoCos in the Jackson Township community.  And even though 95% of the students went to the same high school and were basically in the same grade, the groups of students at each GoCo were (are) very different.  So, as we started out we wanted to make sure that the 2 GoCos were on a similar rhythm and balance as far as Come, Thrive, GO (previous post).  We also wanted them to be on a similar path concerning the discussions and what the structure of each evening would look like.  However, looking back, we realized that we overlooked that one simple fact – Every Missional Context Is Different.

Here are some things we realized:

  • The use of games and activities.  Our GoCo that met on Wednesdays loved doing games and activities before they got into worship, food, or discussion.  However, when the GoCo that met on Thursdays tried to do games, it felt like pulling teeth – they just wanted to hang out, relax, and talk.
  • The approach to discussion will be different. We tried to align, and still do align, discussions amongst GoCos.  However, just because we would incorporate one illustration at a certain GoCo, it did not mean that it would register to the other GoCo.  Or, just because a verse in a section of scripture spurs on discussion amongst students in one context, does not mean that it will with other students in a different context.  You and your leaders must know your students.
  • Worship might look different. One of our GoCos really enjoys singing and being led in song by other students and the other GoCo really doesn’t get into singing.  So, with that GoCo we have found other ways to help the students Come into God’s presence – via prayer, different reflective times, and creative ways of incorporating technology.  From time to time, that GoCo will still sing with student led worship, but it’s not as frequent.

Even though we have had some learning curves it has been such a fun journey!  The learning curves and those moments when we said “Whoops,” and had to try it again, have actually been part of the fun because they have provided the best opportunities for growth.  The last year and half of doing GoCos with students has truly been an adventure.  We have had good times and we have had rough times.  But at the end of the day God has been good and the Holy Spirit has moved and is continuing to move in all that we are led to do.

Feel free to ask questions or to share some of your stories from your student ministry experiences!  We would love to hear from you.

They don’t sell missional at Wal-Mart

The other day I did something dangerous. I started a project in our bedroom closet.  In an effort to become more organized my wife Sandy and I thought it would be good to combine all our shoes onto one shoe rack.  So I went searching for a shelf. I looked everywhere but couldn’t find one. All the pre-made shelf kits were either too large or didn’t have enough shelves.  They simply didn’t sell anything that would work for my context.

I think missional ministry is very similar. The context that each of us find ourselves in is unique. There is no missional kit for sale at Wal-Mart that we can purchase, follow some simple instructions (printed in five different languages) and then viol’a, missional ministry is fully constructed.

So after my fruitless shopping trip I decided to build it myself. The trouble is I’m not much of a handy-man.  Still, I didn’t have too many other choices, and it’s not like I don’t have a few tools in my belt. I do own a saw and so I thought I could do it.  After three days, five splinters and one argument with my wife, the shelf is now finished. Oh, and did I mention that I made a bunch of mistakes? I bought the wrong sized wood, I cut the new wood to the wrong length, I put a big hole in our dry wall which now must be patched, I got paint on the carpet, and then when I thought I was almost done I realized that the shelves were too close together and the shoes could not fit on them. To fix that last mistake took me four hours.

In the end though two things happened. First, the shelf is in my closet holding shoes and more importantly I learned a ton and became a better builder, not from my success but from my mistakes.  Inventor Roger Von Oech says there are benefits from failure: first, if you do fail, you learn what doesn’t work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.

Missional ministry is hard, they don’t sell a kit, each context is different and ultimately you will have to build it yourself. Along the way you will make bunches of mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, so instead of fearing them, embrace them, learn from them, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach you and guide you through the process.  Do not allow fear of failure to prevent you from following the dream Jesus has put in your heart.

Michael Hyatt posted this on his blog: “While there are many things that can contribute to success, there is one thing that is sure to prevent it every single time. What is it? The absence of trying.”  In order for us to build missional minded student ministries, we must be willing to try and be willing to fail and then be willing to try again.  Every failure is an opportunity to  discover more about ourselves, gain a greater dependence on the Holy Spirit and learn a better way to build missional ministries. So celebrate your failures and view them as stepping stones to where Jesus is leading you.

I would love to hear of your missional failures. We can always learn from each others mistakes. I welcome you to share both funny and painful ones. Leave a comment below.