Friday, July 24, 2015

Flashback Friday: The Ministry of Gumby

Today is another Flashback Friday, and we are headed back to my days (1986-1994) in youth ministry at Springfield Friends Meeting. Those were special years with some incredible people, and in many ways Springfield will always be home to me. What does Gumby have to do with any of this? Read on, my friends...

So today's youth ministry artifact comes with a mystery. You see, as keenly as I remember so many details from 30 years ago, I do not remember at all the exact how or why the Gumby you see pictured here came to be in my possession. It was the late 1980s, during my time at Springfield Friends Meeting,  and I know that it was given to me by Shelley Godwin and Heather Beggs because their initials and a message- "Gumbys live forever!"- are on his tag. I also remember that it was Keri Vinson who first turned his rainbow colored belt into a hippie-style headband. But as far as details, that's all I've got.

So why even bring up Gumby? Because his presence in my offices over the years always served as a reminder of something important. This blog goes on and on concerning the need to be intentional about building relationships with students and how important I believe that to be in student ministry. As our TNT  outreach program took off and we began to reach more and more students from the community, this became a real challenge at SFM. As incredible kids like Shelley and her twin brother Jeremy, Heather and Keri became involved in our ministry, I wanted to make sure we stayed connected and that they knew they were loved individually- not just because we liked having a large group. So I turned to one of my mentors, J. David Stone. He had written a book in 1985 for GROUP Books called Spiritual Growth in Youth Ministry, and one chapter contained a plan for a different type of outreach that would change my ministry forever-  24 Weeks of Caring.

The plan was so simple, yet totally brilliant. You would chose 4 groups of a specified (I eventually settled on 6 after trying 8) number of youth with whom you wanted to build a better relationship- a total of 24 students (using 6 per group- HA!  I did math!).  The program would begin by sending all 24 teenagers a letter informing them that they had been chosen for this special event, and that nothing was required of them. It was just going to happen to them. Each group was given a designated communication category for a specific number of weeks (again I chose 6, so at 24 weeks I could do the program twice in a year.). For the first 6 weeks, I would pray every day for each person in Group 1 and send them a note each week reminding them that I was praying for them and asking for prayer requests. During those same 6 weeks I would give the members of Group 2 a phone call once a week. Group 3 received a weekly personalized post card in which nothing was said about our youth ministry- it was all about them. And Group 4 I received visits once a week- outside of church. Sometimes it was over a milk shake, sometimes at school, sometimes at a community event.  At the end of the first 6 weeks, you simply rotate the groups. When you complete the 24 weeks, you have connected every week with all 24 students in 4 different ways- and your relationship with all of them will be different...

Obviously it could be updated to fit today's high-tech culture, and you could use FacebookTwitter, texting or e-mail to replace some of "mailing" that I did. The last time few times I did it I used e-mail instead of writing the post cards. No matter, the point remains the same- letting youth know they are important and they are loved- and that NONE of that is based on how many times they show up for church.

So why does Gumby remind me of this? I'm not sure I can explain it. But just maybe it's because that at Springfield we reached so many students whose families were not a part of that church, and because of efforts like the 24 Weeks of Caring they became a huge part of OUR family. I look at Gumby and remember that I have seldom had better relationships (or more fun) with students over the years than I had with Heather, Shelley, Keri, Jeremy and so many other TNT survivors. Some of those relationships remain strong to this day. Gumby reminds me that praying for students is crucial. But he also reminds me that those kinds of relationships don't just happen- they require work. Even now that I am out of the professional ministry, it's still an awesome reminder. In fact, I could start up the program right now using blog readers and Twitter friends. Hmmm.  Interested?  :) 

Because of Jesus,

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