3 ways to Impact your local school

Students spend  at least 35 hours a week at their school. Clearly this is the center of their world. If we are to take incarnational ministry seriously then we need to partner with the school.

This is one of our last installments on Incarnational ministry. If you have not yet read some of our thoughts on incarnational ministry I would encourage you to go back and see our last few posts; Jesus came to us, Fishing for students, 5 things you can count on if you choose incarnational ministry.  They will help get you up to speed before you read on.

A few years back we decided to begin a relationship with the school in our township. So I called the middle school and made an appointment to speak with the principal.  The day of our appointment, one of our middle school leaders and I were ushered into a conference room. Then a middle school entourage came in; the principal, followed by both vice principals, three guidance counselors and finally two interns. They all sat down, pens and notepads in hand ready to write. Then the principal looked at me and motioned with her hand as if to say “you called this meeting, it’s your agenda, so get started”. The school staff was tense,  they looked as if they were bracing for what I was about to say.

Prior to our meeting, as we brainstormed out our agenda, it became obvious that the best agenda would be not to have an agenda.  We listened to the advice of Reggie McNeal who  we heard say “just ask ‘How can we help?’ “.

So I started the meeting by saying “We are here today because we care about students, and we know you care about the same students, so how can we help? How can we help you care about students here in the middle school?”  There was a huge sigh of relief, all the school staff smiled and their posture relaxed. The tension in the room was gone.

Since that first meeting we have been building a healthy relationship with our local school.  Just like any other relationship it takes time; trust is built slowly.  However, today when I walk into the school I am greeted and treated as an ally. The staff is glad to see me and I am excited to be at the school.

From my experiences working with schools here in Ohio and in Pennsylvania,  I have found there  are a few simple ways to begin to make an impact in the local school.

  1. Make your agenda Service. Too often the church takes an antagonistic posture towards the school. We go to the school with an agenda and an attitude which says “this is what we want from you”. Instead we should approach the school with a humble heart that seeks to serve them and says “how can we help?”. When we ask to help we might not get answers we expect.  Be prepared to hear things like “clean the parking lot, run the snack bar or chaperone a dance” and then be willing to help.  There’s no point in asking if you are not willing to do what they ask. Also, the school might respond with “nothing right now”. That’s ok if that happens, remember, trust is built slowly.
  2. Take Initiative and Volunteer. After letting the school know you are willing to help, the next step is to take initiative and volunteer. The truth is that if you are always waiting for the school to call you, then you will always be waiting.  Generally the school is not going to call, at least not for the first few years. So take initiative and volunteer to help with school events. They are always looking for help. In the last 6 months I have helped with three middle school events; a dance, a Halloween party and a dodgeball tournament.  To do this, find out which parent organization or teacher committee plans events and contact them. Before you make that call, look in the mirror and remind yourself that your only agenda is to serve.
  3. Seek to Encourage. The school staff pour themselves into students each day. The demands placed upon them are difficult in some cases and in others overwhelming. Who is pouring into and encouraging the staff? No one. Principals, guidance counselors, teachers and administrators rarely hear affirming words.  So I would suggest that you find ways to encourage, affirm and build them up. Last fall I bought $5 Starbuck gift cards for all the office staff at the middle school.  I hand wrote  personalized notes of encouragement and gave the gift cards with the notes to the staff. It cost me about $100 and four hours of time.   A caution here: make sure you are not encouraging to make yourself look good, but simply because you care about the school staff.
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8 thoughts on “3 ways to Impact your local school

  1. This is excellent. I found the exact same things to be true when reaching out to Dueber and Belden Elementary schools in Canton. At Dueber there are literally 0 parent volunteers and as you can imagine that comes with a lot of heaviness on the administration’s shoulders. Just recently this week I had the revelation that instead of going in there with some big agenda, the best way to serve is just to ask how we can help. So right on man, this is good stuff for anybody looking to be incarnational in a true and meaningful way.

    • Thanks Corey. I think the degree to which we adopt a mentality of going to where students are at and serving in that place, is the degree to which our own students will understand how to follow Jesus. Keep going to them!

  2. Absolutely! This is how we too were able to break the ice with a local high school and elementary school. It’s important to be sensitive to the concerns of the public schools regarding the church-state separation issues. One of our discussion topics to the administrators is that we are not present to vocally evangelize, hand out tracts, or invite people to our church. We clearly share this with our church members who go to serve at the schools. We are there to serve the needs of the admin and teachers and children.

    It’s been several years since we have been partnering with the schools. Interestingly, when people hear that I work at CPC that ask “aren’t you all the church that helps at the schools?” I (and our church members) can then share that we serve because of the grace and gift of Jesus Christ. Seeking to be the Lord’s hands and feet in the community ultimately brings all the glory back to Him!

  3. Pingback: You Have to Serve the School | Your Life Is Your Mission

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  5. I know I am kind of late on this post but thank you so much for sharing. All of the posts on incarnational are extremely helpful. I am on staff in a student Ministry and was recently given the task of figuring out how to get into schols and serve/love on students so this caught my eye. Since you have started doing this, how much impact have you seen in the administrators and students? Have you seen some noticeable change? I would love to hear back from yall, and thank you again for sharing your wisdom.

  6. Cory, that’s great that you’re encouraged to pursue a relationship with the local school! If the impact that you are talking about is spiritual change with the administration then I would say ‘not yet’. But that can be tough to gauge. Where we have seen change is in the openness of the relationship between us and the administrators. And I think that is a byproduct of our approach to willingly serve the school wherever possible. As for the students, as we have been more intentional in the way we practice our ministry of presence we have been able to build more connecting relationships with them and have seen students get connected and in discipling relationships. These are the students that if we didn’t go to the school/events we would have never been able to connect with them. So, in the relationship with the students, we have definitely seen more of a ‘spiritual impact’. But it takes time.

  7. Mike, thank you very much for your wisdom. I am really praying that God would do some great things in the school and really open some doors. We will definitely approach it in a way that is humble and servant-minded. Thank you again for responding. I hope God continues to bless you guys in a huge way!

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