When I was a kid I was fascinated by ants. I always wanted to get an ant farm, and if I’m honest, I’m still tempted by them when I see them in a catalog or one of those science stores with my kids. There’s just something about watching them work to build the rooms and tunnels of their home that I could watch for hours. The way that ants travel is equally as fascinating. You’ve seen what I’m talking about: hundreds, maybe thousands, of ants traveling in a precise line back and forth from their home to a food source. Left to themselves they don’t get lost, they don’t wonder where they are supposed to be going, and they don’t panic. That is, until you disrupt their line. When you run your shoe through the middle of their line it removes the scent that they are following and the ants begin to scatter in all directions desperately searching for the scent that will get them back on track.
In your student ministry, you’ve spent the last ten months developing this precise line in ministry for your students to follow. Then summer hits. Your students scatter. Your once-clear ministry path looks like that line of ants running all over the place. Here are some things you can do to make sense of the madness and accomplish some great ministry in the midst of the summertime scatter…
- Change your mindset. For some the tendency may be to get frustrated with students and families for being out in the summer. This is the wrong mindset. Summer is their time to reconnect as a family and this is something you should value and support as a student ministry leader. As a way of support, find ways to equip parents to engage spiritually with their students while on vacation. Try developing a short devotional plan and discussion guide that parents can take with them to take advantage of the time away.
- Change your mindset, again. Sports and extracurricular-related camps will take many of your students away throughout the summer. Some your students will likely miss camp, mission trips, or any number of the other events you’ve worked hard to plan this summer. Because of that hard work it’s easy to be frustrated by their absence. What you can’t do is equate their summertime church attendance to their spiritual health. Just because they will miss a couple of things this summer that you place a high value on, doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped following Jesus.
- Use meals strategically. One of the best ways to stay connected to busy students and their families during the summer is to use your meals strategically. Pick a local restaurant (or rotate places) and be there one day a week for lunch. Make it the same day every week so you develop consistency. Don’t overthink or over-plan this time. Just hang out with the people that come. In addition to this, find a smaller group of students and designate a breakfast or lunch time with them that you will keep every week. You may want to do a couple of these each week with different small groups. Be strategic with the students here by inviting those that you know may be missing a few of the bigger events because of their schedule. Spending time with students in this environment for intentional discipleship will often be a greater benefit to them than their attendance at an event.
- Go where they are. This one can be tough, and even a little awkward even if you showed up at your student’s family vacations. Don’t be the awkward student pastor. However, if there are sports camps, tournaments, or other extracurricular activities within a reasonable driving distance try to fit some of these in throughout the summer, especially if several of your students will all be at the same event. Talk with the coaches and find out how you can serve them and the team. This can be as simple as providing snacks between games at a tournament. If these events are happening at a cool place, then tag on a couple of extra days to take your family and enjoy some vacation time yourself.
- Find some vacation time for yourself. Good segue, right? While this may not directly impact the discipleship of your scattered students this summer it will directly impact your own spiritual health and that of your family. The reality is that the scattered nature of your students will often leave you feeling scattered as well. You need rest and your family needs you. Take the time.
Summertime is the shoe that disrupts your beautifully laid out ministry plan, but it also provides you many more opportunities to spend influential time with students than what you can find during the normal rhythm of the school year. Use these moments wisely and you may find yourself in November wishing that summer would hurry up and get here to “disrupt” your ministry plan again.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Student Ministry