You only have so much time with students every week.
Should you give them an on-ramp… or take them to the highway?
- Should you begin a youth night with dodgeball or a discussion?
- Should you end your message with pizza or communion?
- Should you schedule a road trip to play laser tag or a mission trip to build homes?
- Should you offer an added movie night or an optional Bible study?
This is a big tension tension we all feel with student ministry.
While working with youth has a lot of fun to it, we’re ultimately trying to provide something transformational for students to encounter Jesus.
It’s the difference between “On-Ramps” and the “Highway.”
- On-Ramps are what we do to connect with students, be it crazy events, funny stories or wild games. If we just provide on-ramps, though, teens will go to a certain height in church only to then fall off the edge and crash.
- The Highway is everything transformational, from a student’s first steps with Jesus to continued growth from his or her ownership of faith. The tension is we first we need to love them right where they’re at to engage them in ways that they already identify with.
Here’s how a 16-year old high school junior from my church put it:
A youth ministry leader needs to know that Bible studies and genuine conversations are what get through to teens. It seems that a lot of youth leaders think that teens are only looking to have fun, but that isn’t always the case. Yes, pizza parties and games are fun ways to spend time and get to know one another, but this can’t be the main focus of the group. A good ministry leader should be able to have fun, but to know when it is time to sit down and have a godly discussion.
Most importantly, youth ministry leaders must be able to relate to the teens that are in their group. I have found it helpful when my youth leaders talk about their childhood and teenage years because it is really helpful and motivating to hear about times that they have struggled like I currently am. It is also motivating to hear that although my youth leaders have had some hard times and have not only gotten through them, but have gotten through them and come to God.
I want my leaders to be able to tell me when I am doing something wrong and help me find ways to fix it. Teens are getting very close to adulthood, and we don’t always want sugar-coated responses to problems in our lives. Sometimes we need to hear things that we don’t always want to hear, because they will help us grow into Christians that will want to be good role models and live the Christian life.
Although many of my problems may seem small, they are huge obstacles in my life that I need help getting past, and my youth leaders are one of the most important sources that can help me through rough times.
I sense if we make sure everything has its place, students will not only find an on-ramp to the highway, but they’ll then turn around and help their friends do the same.
“Disciples who make disciples who make disciples.”
What do you think?
How are you navigating this?
Any practical tips?
– Tony / @tonymyles