Over the last several weeks, we’ve all begun to see ministry in a different way. The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have forced us to scramble into new territory, to evaluate what’s essential, and to quickly dream about what ministry needs to be. The creativity and innovation of student ministry has been truly inspiring and I know that this will only grow in the coming weeks. Keep it up student pastors, you’re doing a great job.
“What will remain part of student ministry once this is over?”
I’ve gotten this question a lot lately. I think this it’s an excellent question, and one that would be wise for you to consider, as well. I want to challenge you to think about this moment as a discovery period for connecting with teenagers, rather than a short-term solution and set of tools you’ll scrap when this is all over. Try to change your mindset from “How do I do this during COVID-19” to “How will this help me more effectively disciple students and their families moving forward?”
Certainly, there are some things that you need to do right now that will be a temporary fix, but my hope for you is that there will be more things that last than there are temporary fixes.
What Shall Remain?
Through observation and conversation over the last few weeks, here are some things happening right now I hope are a permanent part of student ministry:
Our willingness to try something new, even if it fails.
For as much credit as student ministry gets for pushing the envelope, an honest evaluation would show that many student ministries follow the same general template that’s been used for a while now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s working for you, but if your motivation for keeping things generally the same is a fear of failure, I hope this season of, “let’s throw this out there and see if it works” is something that sticks with you.
Too often, I think we avoid doing something because it isn’t polished enough and we use the desire to be excellent as a way to justify not trying something. In those moments, we need to make sure that the motivation for polish and excellence is actually focused on God, and not on a desire to just make sure we look good as leaders. Doing something new requires a willingness to fail, to be awkward at times, to reach out to others for help, and to learn. I hope this “wild west, try anything” attitude remains in student ministry.
A digital strategy to reach digital natives.
Many of you have been forced into the digital space reluctantly because of a global pandemic, and it’s good that you’re here. It’s good that you’ve been forced to board the ships of exploration into this strange new land where your teenagers have already been living for quite some time.
We often talk about campus ministry and extra curricular activities as places we need to be in student ministry because “we need to go where our students are,” yet we’ve largely neglected one of the places where they are most often: online. For us to ignore this—to not do ministry in the digital space—would be like moving to China as a missionary and refusing to learn Mandarin. I think it’s healthy that student ministry has been pushed into the digital space, and I hope that an effort to stay there remains alongside what we do in person when we are no longer sheltering at home.
People over projects.
Relationships are important. This isn’t news to you, and it has always been a part of an effective student ministry, but we are in a moment where we get to take a fresh look at what relationships are and why they’re important.
In recent weeks, I’ve found myself desiring to be more connected to my family as we shelter at home together. I’ve wanted to see the faces of my team at Lifeway Students more, and I’ve found great joy in playing World of Warcraft with some longtime friends who’ve just come back to the game.
Maybe you’ve had some similar experiences where you’ve been drawn to relationships more than you’ve been drawn to your projects in recent days. In student ministry, it’s so easy to say we are all about relationships while giving a disproportionate amount of time to the projects in our ministry. I think a helpful evaluative question here is: “Do I have relationships with people, or do I have relationships with people through my projects?”
This question will take us to the root of the realness of our relationships. Your students need real relationships with you (and your volunteer leaders) right now because it’s through those real relationships that you will be able to bring God’s Word to bear on what they are dealing with right now. I hope that student ministry remains in this place where connecting people to people is more important than connecting people to projects.
God is still working.
I don’t know how long all this is going to last, but I believe that God is working in the midst of it. God is working in me personally, and He is working in the ministry I have the privilege to lead. I believe the same is true for you. Keep at it student pastor, God is with you. He has called you to this. In His vast strength, you can do it.
This 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.