Disclaimer: Any toe-stepping that occurs in this post is completely intentional. I promise…it’s done in love!
So last week I began talking about a building a student-led youth ministry by saying (sage that I am) that you have to Start at the Beginning. Although the rest of my posts on the subject of Student-Led ministry are in no particular order (really, they must all be happening simultaneously for this all to work), I would say that this component is the key building block upon which the rest of this concept is built.
Fair warning – I’m about to get on my soap box. If you have fragile feelings, I suggest you refer to the disclaimer. But once again…this is sincerely in love. Ready? Here we go.
I was talking to a close friend of mine the other day, a very successful youth pastor here in Florida. He has a tremendous youth group that is running on all four cylinders. He has an excellent staff. They have all the bells and whistles, but they also have a move of God. Though he’s bi-vocational, his events and youth services easily rival those of guys who do this work full time.
How does he do it? What’s his secret? Well, here’s the key, ladies and gentlemen…he works at it. And when I say work, I mean he works. Long hours. Late nights. I mean grind-it-out, shoulder-to-the-plow works at it. As a matter of fact, we were both running through our schedules, talking about what we had going on with our students, and kind of chuckled to ourselves. We aren’t doing this full-time, but we put in full-time hours, because that’s what it takes.
And it’s not just youth stuff either. We’re both ministers. We’re both Sectional officials. We both have families with small children. Thusly, we both can’t remember the last time we slept, or had a moment to ourselves prior to midnight.
Now let me assure you; I love it. It rarely feels like “work” to me. But that’s not what I’m trying to drive home. I see far too many Student Pastors today sitting back and waiting for things to happen. They have a lot of excuses. “If I was a full time youth pastor, I’d have more time for this (news flash: the full-time guys are just as busy as you are).” “If we had a bigger youth group, I could do more with it.” “If I didn’t have so many other responsibilities in the church and could focus on just one thing, I could make this so much better.”
Let me translate those things for you (lovingly!): “I don’t care enough about impacting the lives of students to roll my sleeves up and do whatever it takes to make it happen.”
When I was a young child, I remember my mom dragging me with her to clean the church. It was a big job, and she was often there alone, so we were “volunteered” to help. On one occasion, however, my Sunday School teacher was there with me, and took me to the restroom to teach me how to clean the toilets. Indignant, I explained (in my 8-year-old logic) that “boys don’t clean toilets.” Without grabbing her Rosie-the-Riveter posters, she calmly replied to me, “Michael, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Without having any understanding of the call of God (or any sense, for that matter), I replied, “I want to be a preacher.” She then imparted probably the greatest piece of wisdom I ever received during my childhood years when she responded, “All preachers start out scrubbing toilets.”
Let me tell you something: your students need to see you scrubbing toilets. They need to see you working at your Pastor’s beck and call. They need to know that there is no job that is beneath you if it is for the benefit of the church. They need to be hanging out with you when you drop everything you were doing on a Saturday to go help mow the grass, or visit the nursing home, or whatever else you’re called upon to do.
Student-Led ministry is all about giving young people a platform to learn the skills they will need to grow into ministries and leadership position in the church. Any pastor will tell you what he wants from his team, more than anything else, is a group of people that will do anything that’s asked of them. No one can be above changing lightbulbs; it’s not conducive to a healthy church. I’ll tell you this, though: if you don’t do it, they won’t either.
Simply put, young people need to learn how to work in the church before they can learn how to lead the church. They only learn that through your example. You want that young person to be faithful when you give her an assignment for Friday night? You be faithful. You want that young person to stay late and help clean after that event? You stay late and help clean after that church picnic. If you want students who are willing to be servants, show them how to do it.
Stepping down off my soap box now.