Friday, December 20, 2013

7 Questions Every Student Ministry Should Ask

Curious about this picture, aren't you?
We're coming to the end of another year, and the week after Christmas is a great time to do a little assessment of your youth ministry. Although I have been out of the "business" for a while now, much of my adult life was spent working in student ministry. I was employed by a church to work with teenagers when I was still a teen myself, and for the next 28 years that was my life. I loved it. But having said that I should also point out that success in youth ministry can be very difficult to judge. Youth Pastors are always seeking out new ways to measure their effectiveness and help make sure they are on the right path. Today I want to help. Here are 7 questions that may be a little different from the standard "How am I doing?" checklist. In fact, you may have never considered some of these questions to be an indication of anything positive. I am quite certain these are questions you will never be asked by your church board or HR committee. I simply invite you to answer them honestly for you and your ministry, and then think about the implications of your answers. It may change the way you see success.  Here we go...
  1. When was the last time you had an all-out debate about a hot topic that is impacting the church today?  Not a program that informed students what they should believe, but a chance for them to talk about what they DO believe! Not a controlled, reasonable discussion, but a flat-out debate, with no holds barred. Remember, if you tell a teenager often enough that "we don't talk about that here" then pretty soon they won't talk about anything. And we want them to develop their own faith, not just be able to mimic ours. I can promise you that if you do this, I already know your answer to #2...
  2. How long has it been since a parent complained about what you are teaching?  Obviously, there are standard things we should be teaching to our youth.  But far too often parents (and church leaders) want us to sanitize the Gospels. Following Jesus is messy. It often goes against what the world teaches. If we really teach that Jesus is the way, then we will occasionally be saying that parents are wrong. Oops. Consider the importance of money and material possessions, for instance. Or loving their neighbors- including the one whose dog keeps pooping in your yard.  BONUS: If you don't also occasionally give your Senior Pastor pit strains then one of you doesn't grasp the situation very well...
  3. When was the last time you tried something that failed?  Whether a program, a trip, a mission project or a lesson, teenagers thrive on being challenged! If everything you do is safe and comfortable, with no risk of failure, then you are missing a chance to meet them where they are in a profound way. Use your God-given creativity. Believe all those hats and t-shirts that say, Fear Not! Step out in faith. Do something wild and woolly! And if you fail, simply get up and try again. Jesus will always be with you!
  4. Does your church have a rule in place because of you? This was one of the late Mike Yaconelli's favorite questions for youth pastors. Have you been so creative that the church trustees have met just to figure out how to stop you? Have you tested the limits of the church buildings, the church grounds and the church vans? Not because you have been thoughtless or reckless, and not because you lack respect- but because you know and love teenagers and keep discovering new ways to keep them involved. In my case, one of my favorite rules was the banning of playing Kick the Can in the church cemetery. Seriously. That was on me...
  5. When was the last time you made your students uncomfortable?  We all want our youth ministries to be a safe haven for students in so many ways. But we also need to remember that following Jesus will ALWAYS take us outside of our comfort zones. We need to do ministry in neighborhoods that may not feel safe. We need to talk about subjects that our youth would just as soon ignore. And we need to take mission trips to places where our youth will encounter "the least of these." If your kids have not been uncomfortable lately, they are missing out. 
  6. Do your youth know that you are real?  Your students do not need to know if you are having marriage problems or have a secret addiction. They do not need to know if you dislike your pastor or really can't stand the new worship leader. But they do need to know that you have frustrations and problems. They need to know that you are a real person. Part of youth ministry is being a model of Christian living for the students you serve, and a real model has flaws. You and I are not perfect. Students need to know that. Be honest when you mess up a program or hurt someones feelings.  Be real about frustrations. How can we teach about the amazing grace of God if we spend our lives pretending we don't need it because we have out acts together? It's time to get real.
  7. How much ministry time are you spending outside of your office?  How many students who don't attend your church have you met recently?  I have written entire posts about this subject, but it remains a key question. If you are not out meeting students where they are and building relationships with youth throughout your community, then your ministry is missing a key element. If meetings and paperwork have you trapped behind a desk, change something. Doug Fields once moved his office to a Taco Bell for after-school hours so he could be available to students and away from the "busy work" of the office setting. What do you need to do to make meeting students on their turf a priority?
So there you have it- a list almost guaranteed to get you in trouble with the local Pharisees! It is also a list that will help you seek out new ways to bring the teenagers you serve into a deeper relationship with Jesus. I have one more suggestion that is sure cause a little commotion. Share these questions with the Youth Ministry Committee, your church staff or anyone else you feel is appropriate. Seek their input and guidance. Maybe...just maybe...such discussions can lead to a little more organized chaos in your church. I will say it again- following Jesus is messy. Has your ministry become a little too "sanitized for your protection?" Finally, that ridiculous picture at the top makes a little sense...  Blessings to you as you serve in the name of the Babe of Bethlehem who would become our Risen Savior! Only 5 more sleeps 'til Christmas!!!
    Because of Jesus,


    1. Anonymous12/20/2013

      Great questions. 3, 6 and 7 need a lot of work in my ministry. Thank you for the challenge. ~ Craig Behendon, Georgia

      1. Glad they were useful for you, Craig. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Anonymous12/20/2013

      i remember in a discussion once that you told me you would not see the benefits of / if you'd made an impact for years in the teenagers........that youth ministers continue to try despite that should prove it truly be a godly calling :)


    Thanks for reading,and thanks for your comment!