She came because a friend invited her. She stayed because she liked to serve. She grew because the Lord worked in her heart.
Students get connected to our church community in many different ways. One of the most effective has been through missions and outreach … not being the “evangelized” but being involved in the “serving”.
When a missions unit is taught in Sunday School and scheduled on the third Saturday, it runs the risk of being a thing to do instead of a thing to be. When the fall community service day, spring clean-up for shut-ins, and the weeklong summer mission trip become boxes to check for our “missions focus” … it is not a common thread in our ministry instead it is another event competing for the time of our already over-committed students.
What A Missional Student Ministry Can Look Like
How do we integrate the learning and the doing? Tension exists in finding the balance.
We do indeed need to study the scriptures. Absolutely. Many excellent resources exist. We need to then move “missions” out of units of study and into daily conversation. Jesus instructed through sermons and parables. Many of the most poignant teaching moments for the disciples, however, arose from Jesus’ interactions when healing and caring for others along the journey.
Every youth leader I know wants students to go and do. Many organizations and mission ministries vie for our participation and support. With whom do we partner? How do we connect our students to a missional life instead of to random community service events?
I believe the answer lies within our own church’s mission partners. We can better weave a missions mindset into all aspects of the student ministry by connecting with the church’s overall mission direction. We need the conversations to go beyond our teenagers’ worlds and be a part of the direction that God is calling our whole church family.
Choose partnership over location. Organize mission projects around missionaries your church supports. Building on these relationships helps students understand the breadth of the church. As they participate in short-term projects and serve with missionaries who send regular updates to the church, they can follow how God is working in a now familiar location. Students become personally invested in the missions of the church overall. Conversations occur naturally with older members of the congregation as we all pray for and are concerned for the same mission partners.
Choose modeling over curriculum. Isolating missions to a unit of study reduces our actions to a neatly-packaged, four-week program. Seek ways to better integrate opportunities to serve in all of our core curriculum plans.
- Studying the persecuted church? Visit the Open Doors website to learn today’s needs. Write letters of encouragement to those struggling in oppressive locales. Ask students to regularly pray for and correspond with specific persecuted believers…beyond the unit of study. Include a concert of prayer for our suffering brothers and sisters in your evening ministries. Invite the entire congregation.
- Studying the Gospels? Serve with your church’s local missions outreach with homeless shelters, soup kitchens, or low income outreaches. Students can be a part of your church community’s arm to care for the sick, homeless, widows, and orphans. Encourage teens and their families to regularly assist with one of the outreaches following the first visit. Model Jesus in our everyday lives.
- Studying spiritual gifts and fruit of the spirit? Cancel Sunday School for a month and plug students into needs around the church. To explore their gifts and passions, our high school students served in children’s ministry classrooms, greeted visitors in the lobby, set-up the sanctuary for worship, learned about the a/v system in the sound booth, and helped sort canned food for low income familes. Many students identified or affirmed their gifts and continue to serve our church community in these ways.
Choose strategic over annual destinations. As students explore their faith and their passions, exposing them to different mission partners helps them find their ministry calling and supports church mission partners. When students become too familiar with a ministry, their own self-sufficiency can get in the way of God’s plans for spiritual and emotional growth. When students serve out of their comfort zones, they find they need to rely more upon God and His people.
- Consider rotating between urban, rural, and international missions for short-term mission trips. The needs vary with each mission partner. Working with a translator to lead a children’s ministry in Zambia, building a wheelchair ramp in Appalachia, setting up for a outreach street rally in Philadelphia, roofing in New Orleans, and repurposing old wooden pallets into hydroponic planters in Central America all have opened our students’ understanding of the extent of God’s hand and creativity to reach the unreached.
- Consider coordinating local mission opportunities that also vary in purpose. Cooking at the soup kitchen, stocking shelves in the food pantry, building with Habitat for Humanity, mentoring at the elementary school, gleaning farms for free produce for homeless shelters, and distributing food to low income shut-ins all are ongoing ministry needs where students and families can be the Lord’s hands and feet … while also following their God-given passions for the brokenness of world hunger, poverty and the lost.
Questions to Ponder…
- How can the student ministry come alongside your church’s overall mission direction?
- Does your student ministry offer opportunities for parents, teens, and other congregation members to serve together?
- How does your student ministry integrate “the doing” with the studying of missions?