Last Spring, during the SYM Conference, I filmed a teaching video for teams on the Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS site. The video was on creating a safe place within small groups and Sunday school. I wanted to share some of these thoughts with you.
In 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul says, “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.” Paul urges followers of Christ to be authentic in their love, their faith, and in their relationships with others. This message is underlined throughout the New Testament. The two questions we need to ask ourselves, “Does this message characterize our student ministry? Does this message characterize my personal life?”
How do we, as teachers and leaders in youth ministry, help our students to live authentically as followers of Christ with other peers – whether in the youth room or in our living rooms?
In my opinion, it all starts by cultivating the value of belonging.
Every student matters.
It is not by chance students show up to our classes and small groups. God brings every person for a reason. Therefore, part of our initial responsibility when students arrive is to ask God, “What do You have for these students? Give me insight to reach these teenagers with Your love and truth.” Whether there are 2 students or 30, pour into the group before you with the message of Christ.
Define the atmosphere.
Just as each person matters, each person needs to be heard. Set the limits, and take control of conversations that get out of hand. Put into practice two small principles that have huge impact: be quick to listen, slow to speak (James 1:19-20), and always build up, never tear down (Ephesians 4:29).
Establish common ground.
While every student who shows up may not be a Christian, every person who walks through your doors has been made in the image of God. In talking about the message of Christ, help students to grasp the truth that no one is beyond the grace of God. Help them to see that sin doesn’t define us or cause us to be less than others. Help them to also understand the central message of Christ coming, to restore our relationship with God. In Him, we are a community – a body, of believers who live contrary to the world.
God’s love is unconditional, and so ours needs to be, too.
There are two groups of people in this world: those who need to accept Jesus as Savior, and those who need to grow closer to Jesus. Everything we do, everything we teach, everything we’re about should point towards Jesus Christ and an abiding relationship with Him. We are on this journey together, not separately. By grounding ourselves in Christ, allowing His identity to shape us, our lives begin to be transformed. And what people see becomes infectious.
The value of Belonging
Establishing a value of belonging within your ministry (small group, class, etc) is paramount. It is what will attract teenagers and keep them there, solely because they know they’re safe and wanted. If teens don’t feel like they belong, they won’t walk through your doors again, or ever. Every person Jesus encountered, He spoke “belonging” over people, whether it was through His touch, His words, His eyes, or simply drawing near to the person.
How great is the love of God that is lavished upon us, that we should be called His children. And this is who we are, now. May our students know this truth, but even more may they experience this truth.
Thanks for loving students!
For more on creating the value of belonging, and the values of believing and being transformed, check out my book, “Ministering to Gay Teenagers.” The applications in this book stretch beyond gay teens and reach out towards all students in your ministry and community.