The following post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Students. Ben is passionate about investing in student ministry leaders like you. You can find more encouragement from Ben on his YouTube Channel, Student Ministry That Matters.
Have you noticed a theme to our posts lately? A huge part of your job is to build relationships through helping people be seen and heard. Building those relationships allows you to share Jesus with teenagers but also those who invest in teenagers.
Faculty and administration of your local schools are some of the most underappreciated people in your community. Many of them work with seemingly tireless passion because they are devoted to teaching the next generation. Though this devotion may not be spiritual in nature, it is common ground that you share with this group of people in your community. At times, you also know what it feels like to be underappreciated and can identify with how a little encouragement in your work can renew strength and passion in your calling.
When you think about ministry on a school campus your mind naturally drifts towards figuring out ways that you can connect with teenagers. While this is a good use of your time, it isn’t the only way you should be engaging. In fact, there is a much more effective way for you to build relational bridges with schools that will lead to ministry opportunities. By showing your appreciation to school faculty and administration you will begin to build real lasting relationships that don’t just lead to more access to the students, but can actually lead to ministry opportunities with the faculty as well. As student pastors we can get so singularly focused on the teenagers in our communities that we miss opportunities right in front of us to impact the people who are also hold influential positions in the lives of teenagers. Here is a general campus ministry caution: when you seek to build relationships with faculty and administration for the sole purpose of more access to their students it is disingenuous, they can tell. No one likes being a pawn in someone else’s greater agenda. People do like being appreciated and having gratitude expressed for what they do. As you think through this aspect of your ministry, here are some steps you can take to genuinely care for the school leaders in your community.
- Do your research – Begin by finding out which ones attend your church or other churches in the community and meet with them. By being on the “inside” of the campus they will be able to help you understand the culture that exists within the school, the school’s general opinion of your church, as well as some opportunities that exist for you to be involved.
- Invest in the front office staff – The group of people on the frontline for everyone’s issues related to the school. They hear every complaint, deal with every sick kid, and take the brunt of negativity whenever it walks in the door. They are also overlooked even in the minimal appreciation that reaches the teachers of the school. Your investment here can go a long way. Write some handwritten notes of appreciation or bring some food just for them. Remember that research you did in the first step? This is where that comes in handy if someone in your church knows the office staff well and can tell you some of their favorite things. A customized gift and a note of gratitude for what they do can throw open the relational and ministry opportunities.
- Spend time with administration – Beyond setting up an appointment to meet with the principal (and others), which you should do, consider taking them out to lunch or coffee. People outside their workplace are often more open, relaxed, and willing to take time in conversation. Remember, that is exactly what your focus should be: spending time in conversation. No agenda here. You are caring for the person and not what they can bring to you as a student pastor. An important side note on this one is to consider gender. If you are a male student pastor, it wouldn’t be a good idea for you to invite a female principal out to one-on-one lunch.
- Own the break room – The teacher’s break room is an incredible place of ministry because you can have an impact on every teacher in the school without physically walking to each classroom, which you can’t do anyway. Handwritten, personalized notes work well in this environment, as does food. In general, you can’t go wrong with a giant cookie cake (or lunch, snacks, etc…) that expresses appreciation for them from you and your church. If you are allowed to, decorating the space with banners, balloons, and other party stuff can have a visual impact as the teachers walk in the door. The impression that you will have here is that you care enough about them to go out of your way to plan something awesome even though it is simple to execute.
The key to any relationship is time. Showing appreciation once can make a difference, but an attitude of gratitude for the faculty and administration of your school expressed consistently over a long period of time will earn you the right to minister to them and care for them at a deeper level than an appreciation for what they do. Yes, you are a student pastor and should look for ways to connect with more and more teenagers in your community, but you are also a pastor. Put your student ministry agenda in your back pocket on this one and appreciate these people not for what they can grant you access to, but because they are people. People who hurt and need compassion, who get down and need encouragement, who are overlooked and need to be appreciated, who are lost and need Jesus.