I remember the first time I stepped foot in the student facility at the local church I currently serve at. In my head I thought “wow, this is WAY cooler than what I remember from my own experience.” But – being honest – I don’t really remember the facility of my experience growing up. It was a room – various rooms throughout my time there, actually.
I remember the first time I got to dream up my own event. Whoa! I had this amazing idea, it was great. I could crank out ideas left and right. I still use some of them. I also remember the first time I was handed something and had an aha moment. We did this thing that was our “outreach night” the first year I took over the middle school ministry. But it had a big issue. Because no matter how cool the idea – nobody actually reached out. Like 1-2 students of the 30-40 actually brought a friend. And usually the friend was from another church. It failed at doing the one thing it was supposed to do.
We had created a system that wasn’t doing the main thing Jesus asked us to do. Make disciples of all nations.
Students had grown comfortable in the “youth group.” They knew each other. They had grown up together. I had grown comfortable in what I knew from my experience and what I had been taught in bible college. We had let our experiences shape us and confine us instead of seeking the Holy Spirit to guide us. Our expression of church wasn’t about bringing the Gospel to the world around us or centering our lives on Jesus – it was about what we had always done and “moving the box” to do the same new thing that fit our comforts and preferences.
Jump a few years down the road – and I find myself asking this question. What would it look like for us to rethink Student Ministry – the programs, structures and models? How do we redeem the Sunday or Wednesday gathering – to not make it about a building or a denomination but about Jesus?
I’m not an expert – I’m a dreamer. I’m seeking the Spirit for answers. This is just an attempt to push through. And we’ve tried a few new things. Some are working. Some aren’t. Its about recognizing a broken world, that while culturally has changed is still just as much in need of the Gospel as yesterday. However – our expression of the church doesn’t communicate any longer.
Its like we’ve forgotten that Paul brings the Gospel in different ways. He speaks the same truth in different words to the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 15) than to the Gentiles in Athens (Acts 17). But this goes deeper than just a one-size-fits-all approach in the church or age specific ministries.
Just take a high school – in our community, Hoover, has around 1600 students enrolled. Walk through these halls and we see athletes, academics, band kids, theater kids, gender-right activists, feminists, and so on. The Gospel does not change for each of these but the way we communicate the Gospel changes for each of these. Some will respond to story. Some want to hear facts. Some want to see the Gospel.
Now – with this in mind – every ministry will not reach every pocket of students. But we cannot use this as an excuse to settle for how we do things instead of asking the difficult question of whether or not we are willing to abandon our comfort and traditions in order to see lives radically changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must be willing to ask the difficult questions. Are we willing to let people who God is saving amongst us – including the mess of sin they may still be working through? Or do we sit and wait for them to look like us – acting as though we somehow have it all together?
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:47
Do our modes of ministry allow for those who are in process or just for those who have/pretend to have it all together?