Is is possible to get students to “own” the ministry? Jeff Borton, student minister and co-author of Simple Student Ministry, shares about the importance of students developing ownership in the ministry. — Ben Trueblood
Ben Trueblood: Why is it important that students feel ownership in the ministry?
Jeff Borton: Ownership really begins with our vision or the “why” we do student ministry. At Christ fellowship, our mission is to make fully devoted followers of Christ. Everything we do must serve the vision.
When a student has ownership, it means they get that they are part of disciple making: disciples make disciples. So ownership isn’t really as much about the church or even the student ministry as much as it is to own discipleship as a whole. When students own the vision, they are growing and being equipped to reach others.
Ben: How do you help students understand that their ownership in the ministry is something that you want and even need?
Jeff: When a student owns the vision the mindset shifts from what can I “get” to what can I “give.”
Students understand ownership when it is repeated and repeated, but also students must be the given opportunity to practice the ministry. We cannot just talk about taking ownership and the greatness of a vision if we don’t give practical ways for students to embrace it and live it out.
From our experience students really don’t have ownership until they are given an experience. This is true of serving and missions especially.
Ben: What are some ways that students are taking ownership in your ministry now?
Jeff: Students serve in multiple areas of the church and the student ministry. CF Kids, worship, media, welcome team, follow up, creative arts, etc. Students also live on mission personally, leading Great Commission clubs at their schools, leading missional small groups in their homes/school, partnering with our local ministries and going on mission trips.
Ownership is really displayed in two areas: serving and missions. Are they living the vision? We know students can show up to a weekend service or possibly be in a small group and just be an attender.
We see a student as truly understanding and having ownership when they are living the vision independently of church involvement. We aren’t naive and think that if a student serves they are owning, but when a student is living missionally we know they are not only owning the vision, but more importantly being a fully devoted follower of Christ.
Ben: It is an assumption that when a student feels ownership of the ministry that they will be much more engaged in reaching their schools/neighborhoods/communities? Have you seen this to be true? What is a situation that comes to your mind where you witnessed this happen?
Jeff: We believe those two thoughts are synonymous. This is why vision is key.
When students get the “why” of ownership, they begin to engage it. Getting students to buy into student ministry for the sake of the ministry is pointless. What happens when the ministry changes? What if leadership changes? The vision doesn’t change. We want to make fully devoted followers of Christ and we want students owning that. Their involvement at any level makes people being discipled a possibility.
On a large scale, we see students who own the vision are way more likely to start a club at their school, go on a mission trip, even invite their friends to come with them to church.
On a personal scale, here’s a story. Jaylin is a senior and was invited to CF by a friend in 7th grade. A short time later, she gave her life to Christ. In 8th grade she began to sing with a worship team. As a Junior, she began to understand and own the vision began living missionally as well as going on a mission trip. This past year while in El Salvador, she felt God was calling her to be a missionary. She plans to spend this summer abroad sharing the Gospel.
When she began to own the “why” of what she was doing, everything changed.
Ben: At your church, you have a large number of adult leaders who take ownership in the ministry alongside of you. How do you instill in those leaders the value of students taking ownership as well?
Jeff: Ownership starts with the leaders. Our leaders must see themselves as an integral part of owning the vision. Whether it’s a greeter, a media person, a weekend or small group leader, their ownership must be tied to our “why”. Loving Jesus and students is amazing, but when leaders understand how critical their role is in making fully devoted followers, the game changes. Passion and longevity are results of leaders owning it.
Leaders understand ownership when they hear it repeated and see it displayed in their leaders. The vision can’t just be cast from the stage, it must be in personal conversations. Ownership has to be discussed in teaching moments. When a leader is brought on the team they should be shown immediately how their contribution helps move the vision of making fully devoted followers.
Adults are busy. Having a spot on an organizational chart or getting to do something cool may be great now, but it won’t get them up in the morning in a year. Owning the vision is key.
Ben: What are the warning signs in a student ministry if the students aren’t developing that feeling of ownership?
Jeff: Leaders and students don’t engage in what we are saying is important. Craig Groeschel says that his team can never say, “Our people don’t….”, rather they must say, “I have not led them to….”
This is so true. If a ministry isn’t owning the vision, one of two things is happening: the vision isn’t compelling (or there isn’t a vision) or the leader is incapable of casting vision. Either way, ownership all comes down to leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership.
Ben: Is there anything else that you would like to add about this topic?
Jeff: It’s so fun to be part of what God is doing. One of the greatest opportunities in student ministry is to watch students understand and own the vision and live it out for themselves.
Jeff Borton is a co-author of Simple Student Ministry. He oversees student ministry on all five campuses of Christ Fellowship in Miami, Florida. He and his wife, Jen, have three kids.