The following post was written by Chris Swain, Director of LifeWay Student Ministry Publishing
I am not a huge fan of Apple’s Siri. While she has helped me from time to time, the reality is precision doesn’t seem to be something she excels at. But when it comes to directions she does a pretty good job. Granted, she is just reading the data fed to her from the satellites and GPS technology. But I can usually count on her to get me where I need to go. Barring that, she at least gives me a clear starting point. Without that, I wouldn’t even be able to begin the journey.
When it comes to our Student Ministries we need to know our starting point as well. How can we take our students on the journey they need to travel without knowing where to begin? And once we begin, where do we go? And why do we go there?
Hopefully your answer to that is the desire to see gospel-centered discipleship grow in your students as they pursue Christ. But if that is the end goal of your ministry, where do you begin? Having a starting point is very important and it is one of the things that student leaders so often overlook. Here are a few thoughts on how you can determine a starting point for your ministry and lead your people well:
- Clearly identify your community. Before you know where to start you need to make sure you know your people. If your community is in an unchurched region, you must ensure that your starting point takes that into context. Likewise, if your community is in the buckle of the Bible Belt, then you’d probably better start at a point that understands their needs and their history. Regardless of where you serve, you will be more effective by clearly identifying the people you intend to reach.
- Determine your goal. Now that you have a clear understanding of whom you will serve, you need to set a goal for your ministry. What does success look like for your ministry? What do you want to see happen in the lives of students you reach? What do you want to celebrate with students when they graduate from your ministry? These questions must be answered before you can know your starting point. Your goal might be a transformed life, or it could be training students who can in turn lead others. Regardless, your goal is a key factor in determining your starting point.
- Define your approach. Based on the unique people in your community and the goal you have for your ministry, you will be able to hone in on the approach that will work best. The approach can be varied but there are a couple of things you will want to be sure it has:
- Your approach needs to be grounded in and built upon God’s Word.
- Your approach should be driven by the vision of your church and ministry.
These two elements are not negotiable and there are many approaches that can work within their context.
Now that you have worked through the process of identifying your community, determining your goal, and defining your approach, you are ready to find your starting point. There are many places to start when it comes to discipleship, but three key starting points are:
- Life. This starting point begins with where your students are. It allows the context of life to provide the track upon which you will study the Bible. Just because life is the starting point, it can be easy to think this approach is surface level. But you can study as in depth and exegetically as you want. The goal is to connect right with were your students are giving them answers they can use and apply instantly.
- Text. The starting point of text involves letting the Word itself guide the study. If you are in the book of Genesis, you are going to learn how God created and how man responded to His creation. This will be the focus of your study time as provided by where the Word is at rather than where your students are.
- Theology. This starting point begins with sound biblical doctrine. This is a systematic approach to understanding what the Bible says and how those things connect together. By studying and learning theology, your students will study doctrines as they journey through Scripture together.
Which starting point is best? The reality is that they are all effective and your church context will determine which is best for you. If your church is looking to help people see the big issues they deal with daily through the lens of Scripture, then Life may be the best starting point. If your students don’t seem to have a solid grasp of God’s Word then Text could be the best starting point for you. Finally, if your students need to learn doctrine and see how the Bible connects as a narrative, Theology may be your best starting point. This isn’t a best or worst choice, but merely a context decision. And whatever your starting point is, it may change as your people grow.
Regardless of what your starting point is, having one is key. Taking a long spiritual journey must start somewhere. And when you have the critical responsibility of leading students and families toward spiritual growth, you must be wise in choosing where to begin. Siri often replies to my questions by telling me she isn’t sure what I need, or she pulls up the web so I can search it myself. These aren’t all that helpful. Your people need a clear direction driven by a wise discipleship strategy that is bot biblical and contextual. A starting point can provide those so that you can serve well as you guide the ministry.