The state of Kentucky is one of my favorite states to drive through. The winding roads, green hills, and fields are just some of the beautiful sites to behold. There have been many times, however, I have driven through Kentucky very aware of the steepness of those beautiful hills and the fact that a seemingly thin guardrail was the only thing that was going to protect me and keep me on the road should I start drifting.
Yet often the students we are privileged to minister to are on their own journey, traveling down their own path, without a guardrail to warn them of the eminent danger lying in wait for them should they make a fatal choice with their character and eternity.
For church ministry, that guardrail for all practical purposes is the role of the children’s ministry. As children are beginning to take the journey of following Christ, the children’s ministry comes alongside and teaches the basics of the faith—like the importance of staying on the road! Whenever a student moves close to the edge, the teachings they received as children echo like the warnings of the rumble strips, prompting them to adjust course before a collision with the guardrail becomes imminent and disaster a reality.
But what about the students who were never raised in church? What about those without a solid and biblical foundation for living? In that case, they need more than guardrails—those students need safety nets, and they need us to provide them. So the question becomes, “How do we strengthen our “nets” to make sure they are as effective as the possibly can be?”
Connect with the Children’s Ministry
We must begin with connecting with the existing children’s ministry of the church. Communication and teamwork with a Sunday school teacher, Christian Education supervisor, lay person, or children’s pastor are vital. Remember you are on the same team. Take the initiative in building a solid relationship with those individuals who are laying a foundation for your ministry. You will find they can and probably are your greatest asset.
By the way, don’t take this time to give your input on the children’s ministry or class. Respect their space and how they are using the latest and greatest in flannel graph!
Know Your Purpose and Stay Focused
A huge danger for youth pastors, both full-time and volunteer, is that we often operate in a vacuum. The reality of forgetting the purpose of your ministry leads to not staying focused, and the result of not staying focused is lost opportunities to catch those who are falling in sin and bad choices.
When we get caught up in the everyday to-do lists of ministry, we forget ministry is about serving and helping people. When we forget ministry is about ministering to and helping people, we run around putting out fires instead of strengthening our nets.
Remember They Are His Kids
As a parent lives with the constant reminder their children are on loan from God to teach, love, and protect, a healthy youth ministry never looses site they are given the distinct and unique privilege to teach, love, and protect His kids.
He has placed them in your care. They are His, and so are you. He has entrusted them to you for a little while to love them like He would. And when you do, you give everything you have to keep them from making those fatal mistakes.
Accept Not All of Them Will Listen
But what if your best isn’t good enough? What if you gave everything, loved with all you had to the point where it physically hurt?
Jesus let us in on this horrifying truth when He taught us the parable of the sower and the seed. Remember the story (if not, ask the children’s ministry for their flannel graph!)? Jesus, describing the Father, throws the seed, the Gospel, to the hearts of men, the soil, but not everyone responded in kind. In fact, Jesus gives us the percentage that will respond and stick it out, 25%.
The first seed was eaten by the birds, the next burnt by the sun, the third was choked out by the weeds, but the fourth took root and grew to be fruitful. In all of your efforts and through all of your tears and frustration, we need to understand that not all of the students will care about the danger at the bottom of the hill as they fly past the guardrail ignoring the echoing of the rumble strip.
In the midst of watching the students we care about, so much make major life changing decisions for the bad, how do we keep our heads up and our minds clear of guilt and remorse? Connect with the children’s ministry, know your purpose, and stay focused. Remember, they are His kids and accept the fact not all of them will positively respond to your warnings.
“But how will we know which ones will respond?” you might ask. Well, you see . . . you don’t. That is why you try to help every student you can.