- It will be awkward. There is no way around this. When an adult goes to where teenagers are and enters their world it just feels strange at first. Students know it’s a little weird and you know it’s a little weird. I can remember sitting in my car outside the local school almost 16 years ago. I was building up the courage to walk into a middle school girl’s basketball game. I kept telling myself “just do your best to blend in”. When I went in, there were less than 20 people watching the game. No chance to blend in, so I went and sat next to a group of 5 students. And then a boy asked me the dreaded question “which one is your daughter?” I responded with confidence….. “Um… none of them”. The boy persisted “So then why are you here?” Sweat was beading on my forehead. “I am here to support the team” was the best I could do….awkward. When you go, be prepared for it to be awkward. If you make a commitment to regularly go to the same areas, or school, eventually they will expect to see you. Just realize it will take some time. The awkward phase will pass, I promise.
- You will get rejected. Do not take it personally just get used to the idea that students are going to reject you. The very first football game I went to here in Ohio I was doing my best to simply be present and say hello to students. I started to walk along the track and saw two students who I had met at our church walking towards me. I though to myself “finally! someone I know I can talk with”. The closer I got the more it became obvious they did not want me to see them. As we passed each other I said “Hi” loud enough to be heard. They looked the other way and just kept walking. It is painful to be rejected. It still hurts today as much as it did then (5 years ago). Over time as students begin to embrace leaders being with them the frequency of rejection goes down a bit, but it never really stops.
- It will feel like a waste of time. After the first couple of times you go to where students are, experience the awkwardness, get rejected and don’t really have any good conversations, you will begin to wonder if it is worth your time and energy. Do not give up though or you will miss some of the greatest joys in student ministry. So count the cost up front and realize that it might take 6 to 12 months until you feel good about the incarnational work you are doing.
- Your prayer life will grow. The bottom line is we can not change anyone’s heart. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us, to help us in conversations and to grant us favor with the people we meet. When we leave the safe confines of our office and head to student’s turf we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit in a very tangible way. I think this dependence forces us to pray. I pray while I am in my car on the way to the school, while I am walking into events, while I am talking to students and then when I am walking back to my car thanking the Spirit for leading me. To be completely honest, I feel inadequate and naked each time I seek to be incarnational. The realization that I can not do it has made me humble and produced in me a desire to pray and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me.
- Lives will change. When we choose to be incarnational and develop a ministry of presence in a community we do not know how God will use us. We must pray hard, seek guidance and simply trust that the Holy Spirit will orchestrate our efforts. I have had the privilege of seeing God work through incarnation countless times. Quite frankly it is hard to summarize. He does so many things through us when we GO. Here are just a two ideas:
- Students we already know. You are modeling Jesus to the students you already know. You are giving them an example of how to GO. You are showing them how much you love them by entering their world. Therefore when you challenge them to GO (which could be to their sports team, their neighborhood, a friend at lunch, a local nursing home or soup kitchen) they will already have seen you do it. You are actually discipling them by being incarnational.
- Students we don’t know. Through the years I have seen a pattern emerge. God uses multiple points of contact with students we do not know to change their lives. Let me tell you just one story of many. Steve played on the football team. I volunteered twice a week to help coach and was able to meet him at practice. He was injured and so we were able to talk a couple times. It never came up that I worked at a church. I saw Steve at a basketball game in the winter. We didn’t talk, just a head nod and a “hi”. On Easter his family decided to visit our church. I saw him and said hello and we talked a minute. I met his mom. Then I walked up on stage and did the welcome. I think at that point he realized I worked at the church. A month later I volunteered at the school judging some speeches. His mom saw me and recognized me. She was there judging also. She introduced me to a bunch of people she knew. One of the people turned out to be the mom of a guy I was discipling. That mom asked Steve’s mom if Steve was going on mission trip that summer. Turns out Steve knew 2 guys who were going. Steve goes on the trip, and begins his journey with Jesus.