So to recap to this point, in the discussion on creating a successful student-led youth ministry, we’ve talked about the importance of establishing the basics, demonstrating to your students the heart of a servant, and really getting to know your students. We’ve learned about connecting our students to God, showing them what it means to dedicate their lives to the work of God’s kingdom, and then working to intimately understands what makes your young people tick (their talents, abilities, what motivates them, etc.). The next step I want to lay out for you is the one that I learned the hard way. It was probably the most painful, yet essential lesson I’ve learned in my almost 10 years of student ministry. I’ll share how I learned it.

I was working with a young man who had a call to pulpit ministry. That was evident to me and most people around him. I really wanted to take him under my wing and mentor him. I’ve always valued mentorship, and I believe it’s vital to help students succeed. The problem was I went about it all wrong. Sure I taught him how to pray, and I took him with me when I was working on things for the church. He went on just about every visitation, Bible Study, church work day, etc. that I was involved in. And absolutely I got to know him. I probably knew him better than any other student in our group.

Then…I threw him in the deep end. I had him speak to the whole church of 200+. Truth be told, I really kind of pressured him into it. Well, to say he wasn’t ready is an understatement. He didn’t really know how to study and lay out a message, he’d never spoken in a smaller setting, and we’d never sat down and gone over any of the basics of public speaking. To say it was a disaster would be putting it kindly. It shattered his confidence, humiliated him in front of his peers, and ultimately resulted in him never even attempting to get behind a pulpit again. Obviously, I understand this young man is partially to blame for giving up on his calling…but certainly I didn’t help, and I have to live with it.

I determined from that point forward that I would not make that same mistake with our young people in the future (I’ve gone on to make different mistakes, of course. That’s why I joke about my “Youth Ministry Vault:” the place where I store all my really bad ideas. I’m sure we’ll talk more about that later). So I set about creating a framework for success.

We’ve established a process where young people have a chance to try things out in smaller settings (youth service, Sunday School, etc.). This gives them a chance to get comfortable in their own skin. And I’ve stepped up the coaching aspect as well. I’ve learned if you’re going to have a teenager preach, it’s not a sin to work on his sermon with him. When a young person has come to me with an idea for creating a video, or decorating the youth room, etc., I’ve gotten with him/her and helped establish a process, set up deadlines, and work through barriers.

Essentially, we’ve created a process. Not a rigid, 7-step process, but rather we tailor the process to the student. We get to know the student’s desired area of ministry, and then work with the student on an action plan to prepare him/her for it.

Vital to this process, however (especially for youth interested in pulpit ministry), is creating a safe environment. We have a strict “no teasing” policy in our youth group. I’ve made it abundantly clear multiple times that students who step out of their comfort zone should be encouraged to pursue their calling, and not ridiculed if it’s not perfect. If you’ve been in student ministry for more than 2 minutes, I probably don’t have to tell you this, but…teenagers are brutal to each other. And they’re also very fragile. What a peer says can be permanently damaging. So if I see a young person discouraging someone because their solo was less than perfect, or the decorations they worked so hard on aren’t “just right,” I deal with it. Immediately. Ignoring it is the same as accepting it. I try not to get involved in every little squabble my students have (after all…believe it or not, some of that is healthy), but teasing is one I never ignore. Sticks and stones may break my bones…but words may break my heart.

Once you have established a framework for your students to be successful, and created a safe environment, you can move on to the next step. Which hopefully I’ll write about sooner than a month from now.

So…what are you doing to set your students up to be successful in ministry? Comment below with your ideas.

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