A couple of times a year I survey my teen students about our programming. What do we do well? What needs to change? What topics are we missing? About 8 months ago the overwhelming response was a desire to do more and be more.
It began with some leadership classes. Those were great as we talked about integrity, character and how to lead. However, I noticed no one was actually LEADING, while they believed they were. This is when it hit me. This wasn’t about the teens doing more. They were HELPING. However, they weren’t OWNING anything. The expectation was that I show up, do all the work, and they leave.
We started to move from a merely teaching model to and ownership model of ministry. I sat with my teens and had another conversation about “owning” their ministry. If we could start somewhere, I asked, where would it be?
Our students wanted to affect the younger generation, so (with the permission of our Children’s Pastor) they took over some aspects of our children’s programming. It meant many things. We analyzed what went well and what didn’t from their point of view. For those who grew up in the programming, what stood out when they were younger? IThey set up and tore down. They cleaned the church. They ran “children’s church” before the kids went into small groups. Here is what I am learning about teaching ownership of a ministry or project to our students:
1. Take away the pressure of perfection.
The first week we ran “children’s church” it was miserable. The players in the skit had no enthusiasm, kids laughed at the prayer and teens were embarrassed. I praised them for a job well done. They exclaimed, “It was awful.” We debriefed and came up with a new plan for the following week. (I didn’t have to point out the issues. Since they did everything themselves, they saw it.) Next week there will be a new goal for improvement. I had to remind students it was alright they didn’t have the same “polish” the current Children’s minister does. She has been doing this for 20 years, this was the teens first week.
2. Bring Guidance
Student’s don’t always know HOW to do something yet. On the other hand they may not look at a landscape of service and know to “just” jump in. We may have to help them see the task list. Ask a lot of questions, give direction and get out of the way. When our students take ownership we become the golf course landscapers. Our job is to set up the course so they can succeed. However, we put responsibility into their hands for the game.
3. Expect More.
It’s easy to play to the personality of a student. Some are more naturally funny, or comfortable in front of a crowd. This is where I made a mistake. One of my quiet students always helped set up and break down. I believed this was ALL they wanted to do. When we decided to come up with a skit, he was actually WAITING for me to ask him to be a part of it. Then I stepped back, and I inquired who wanted to do what. I started raising my expectations, and they keep rising to the challenge.
My students overall can struggle with apathy. However, we are all learning a valuable lesson in this process. It isn’t JUST about leading, or helping, or serving. It is about OWNING something.One student showed up and said, “I don’t feel like doing this today.” I made him, “90% of the time leaders don’t FEEL like leading,” I told him. The life lessons in this process are worth any amount of extra “work.”
How do you get students to own your programming?