by Ricky Smith
Here’s a novel idea, let’s release the church to serve the church! Believe it or not, this concept has been met with resistance due to a perception that the church does not have the maturity, experience, or leadership to serve. This is not a statement towards pastors or elders. In fact, this is a challenge to allow the church of tomorrow to literally be the church of today. Let’s release our students to serve the church! For over 20 years I have watched students effectively serve and lead their church, and would challenge you to assess what role your students are currently playing in the life of your church.
Before we look at best practices, let us first consider some biblical and philosophical reasons why this is valid and important. First, let us consider Jeremiah’s calling. God spoke to him with a significant challenge to rise up and be a catalyst for change among his people.
Initially Jeremiah saw his age as an inhibitor, however, God viewed his youth as an asset. Jeremiah 1:6-7 “Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. 7 But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.”
Not only did God push back on his age as an excuse, He challenged Jeremiah to lead with the promise that He would go with him.
From a biblical support, one could also consider 1 Timothy 4:12, where Paul challenge Timothy to serve the church and provide leadership without allowing others to hold his age against him. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 implies that God frequently uses the simple and weak to shame the wise and strong. Often the church will view the students as inexperienced and unable to contribute. However, perhaps this biblical evidence implies we all have something to learn from a faith that is more simple and confident.
Beyond a biblical position, there is a philosophical perspective that provides excitement and hope for the future. While I did not coin the phrase, I hold steadfastly to the popular mantra that students are not the church of tomorrow, but are the church of today. According to James Emery White, in his book Meet Generation Z, there are high points that are pivotal moments in human history. I agree with White that this generation is very open with spiritual conversations and possesses an entrepreneurial spirit. Their innovative spirit coupled with the crisis of culture that has been poisoned by secularism positions the church for the next great awakening. The church must wake up to this opportunity and embrace the youth of today to breathe new life for the never changing Gospel and the church’s hope for tomorrow.
Once a person accepts the biblical and philosophical reasons why students should be given a voice and an opportunity to lead and serve, consider some best practices on how this can be accomplished.
Make it a priority to invest in students in your church and in your community. This is easier said than done. For a church to make student ministry a priority there should be reflected in the budget, the calendar, and the mission of the church. This does not require a major shift in programming, but more-so a focus on prayer and outreach into the community. Students may not come to your church, but the church should assess how they might go to the students. For example, any church committed to prioritizing students should consider some form of campus outreach.
Additionally, the church should identify tangible ways to keep students bridged to the Church. This helps them develop a more Biblical concept of total church life and it pushes against the dreaded “church within a church”. A church can quickly become individual ministry silos that are disconnected and disunited in their mission. Bridges can be constructed regardless of proximity or location. The most effective bridges are relational in nature. Mentorship can be powerful and shared missions experiences can help the church, recognize that everyone is on the same mission. As a simple exercise, challenge the young boys to participate in the men’s ministry activities and allow them to play a role in the ministry. Other ways may be to give students service roles that typically belong to adults; such as: running audio and video in worship, being an usher, team, teaching with an adult in SS, serving elders, taking the offering, being a regular part of the choir, or even giving a youth student called to preach the opportunity to deliver the sermon on a Sunday night.
You may even consider showcasing your students in a special youth service. Whether quarterly or annually, here are some suggestions to make this experience the best it can be:
1. Plan in advance (at least 6 weeks out).
Things that are done well require time to process and prepare. Establish a team of adults and students who can organize and implement. This plan should include a deadline and an approval process that involves the pastor of the church.
2. Identify all roles they can fill.
Every church is different and the roles that students can fill will vary from to church. The various roles offered are a way to reinforce to students 1 Corinthians 12-14.
3. Give them input and ownership, and be willing to accept a creativity.
It is important that they have input and not just be told what to do. Students tend to resist situations where they have no ownership.4. Give them acceptable boundaries.
Boundaries are critical and are appreciated. Regardless of common misconceptions,
students appreciate clearly communicated boundaries. Even though they may naturally push against boundaries, this conversation can help students understand the importance of protecting theology and healthy traditions.
5. Have them shadow one week to learn how.
Certainly the training component is helpful in preparation, but more importantly, this gives students an opportunity to connect relationally with adults they otherwise may not get to know.
6. Require any on stage to outline their thoughts and meet with them beforehand to counsel for biblical content.
Students are not trained communicators, nor should we expect them to be. However, we are accountable to God for protecting the Gospel and sound theology. Often times students will have incredible thoughts to share but may need to be coached on integrating Scripture.
7. Expect quality and coach them to do their best.
We live in a culture that accepts the tendency to “wing it”. If any of your students play sports or are in the band at school they are used to being pushed and challenged to do the small things well. The church should be no different. With good preparation and planning, students can serve with excellence. They just need to be shown how and given accountability.
8. Expect them to gather for prayer at a scheduled time prior to the service.
This reinforces that this isn’t a performance but a holy act of service.
Let’s release our students to serve the church! Beyond just a quarterly event, students can breathe fresh air into the life of our church. God has great plans for the life of the church as His name is proclaimed. While students may have a different voice that is not fully matured, let’s begin today to embrace their energy and vitality with the expectation that the next great awakening may be released today or tomorrow.
Ricky Smith/ Georgia Baptist Mission Board/ Student Ministry Network