One Simple Principle That Helped Me Survive Student Ministry

I was a bad fit for student ministry.

I had never intended to go into it. I was more interested in world relief or overseas missions as I went through college. My mind and soul were fed on the work of missionaries like Hudson Taylor, C.T. Studd and Mother Theresa. I saw no purpose in entertaining students or having fun. Even worse, I was a happy introvert, who would much rather work on an essay than be at a party. The demands of Student Ministry seemed polar opposites of who I was as a person and what I felt called to do with my life.

Then everything changed….

What A HUGE Mistake!  Six Lessons I Learned From it.

What a huge mistake!

I moved to my new office at Vanguard College recently. My daughter and I were decorating it with all my Coca Cola memorabilia. I‘ve been collecting Coke items for years.  I have bottles and cans from all over the world and from different eras.  One of the cans in my collection is a can of original Coke, before Coca Cola made one of the biggest mistakes in it’s history. 

This Is What the Wall Street Journal Says We Need to Know about The 2017 Teenage Spiritual Crisis

On June 13, 2017 the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled, The Teenage Spiritual Crisis. For those of us who have invested our lives in youth ministry, any new insight is always valuable. What do they see that I don’t? What is at the heart of this 2017 Spiritual Crisis and what can we do about it?

6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started in Youth Ministry

I thought I knew what I was doing but…

… I realized I had a lot to learn!

I was recently looking through some old pictures of all the different youth ministries I’ve had the privilege to lead. After over 20 years in youth ministry, I’ve had my share of successes and failures.  There are many things that I wish I had known way back when I started. Here are 6 of them.

The #1 Surprising Thing Your Church Needs To Know About GenZ

Gen Z is upon us

and if we confuse these students with Millennials we’re going to miss out on connecting with them and touching their hearts.

As James White tells us in Meet Generation Z, “If the heart of the Christian mission is to evangelize and transform culture through the centrality of the church, then understanding that culture is paramount.”

So sure, they’ve been brought up by the biggest generation of adults claiming no religious affiliation and they are the first group considered post-Christian but what is the most surprising thing about this cohort of students?

The #1 Thing

We know also that they have grown up in a snap chat world of weekly terrorist attacks, gay marriage and legalization of marijuana but what’s at the heart of Gen Z that needs to be understood and approached differently than previous generations? “They aren’t merely secularized. They’re not thinking about religion and rejecting it; they’re not thinking about it at all.”

That’s Right. The God Question isn’t Relevant. So what is?

…The human condition. All research points out that in the absence of the God question, the human question is close to their hearts. How should we live on this planet (and Mars when we get there)?

In one way they aren’t waiting for God to solve world problems so they are looking at what can be done. Sadly, they will realize that they can do only so much without God. Also, they won’t have a solution for their own human failings.

Introduce them to the Jesus they Never Knew

With only the vaguest concept of God, GenZ can approach Jesus fresh. They can see him as someone who did something about human suffering and religious oppression. They don’t see him through the lens of boring church rituals or their parent’s God.

We need to let them know that, “When you see Jesus you’re looking at God. When you want to know what God is like, look at what Jesus did and said!”

Community Before Commitment, Service before Salvation

They are less concerned if God loves them than if you or I love them. Starved for genuine acceptance they want to be part of a small group of close friends that loves uncritically. Unsure, they will be looking for constant affirmation. Only after standing that test will they be interested in the content of our faith.

A possible scenario is that we invite them to be part of a team building a house in Mexico before they have faith in Christ. We may have to change some of the screening criteria for our trips and other social justice initiatives. Groups that are constantly trying to prove that we can be Christians and still have fun won’t have much to offer Z.

A Reason for Hope

At the end of a retreat a student asked me, “All weekend you’ve been telling us that Jesus died for our sin… How did he die?” His brother yelled at him, “It was a cross, stupid.” Every week I hear another story like this from youth workers and my students at Vanguard College. More than ever community kids have no idea about what we believe.

Why does this give me hope? Maybe I’m too much of an optimist but I believe that when students have been loved by a group and they’re ready to hear about Jesus, the power of the Gospel won’t be warped by years of negative religious experience. I’m excited to see what Z will do with an encounter with the real Jesus instead of second hand knowledge of a religious one.

Please Don’t Copy This Student Ministry

It looks slick and successful.

Don’t confuse this with a healthy effective youth ministry. Believe me, you don’t want to make this same mistake… As I said, it looks like something great but looks can be deceiving. In fact, for this ministry it is all about the look. They believe that if the graphics and the social media presence are excellent, they can attract more students. Don’t get sucked into this approach. Here’s what’s wrong with it and how you can do much better.