Have you ever seen a teenager dive headfirst into a baby pool filled with 75 pounds of wet spaghetti noodles while trying to find a raw hot dog? This was the first stop in a hot-dog-themed relay race featuring the previously mentioned hot dog as the baton, renamed “Wienerthon,” for obvious reasons.
When I say relay race, let me set the stage in your mind. It was a course with over 20 obstacles covering a distance of more than a mile, including the church pond that may or may not have been inhabited by a family of muskrats. Think Warrior Dash—but with hot dogs. It’s a memory that I will never forget, but not because of the hilarious picture that is frozen in time in my mind.
Substantive and fun
This memory represents some of the best things about student ministry. It was undeniably fun. Our students looked forward to this event every year, and we saw it continue to grow year after year.
Student ministry gets a bad rap sometimes for swinging too far into the “fun” side of things as being ministries that aren’t substantive. Here’s what I know: it’s possible to have an incredibly fun and substantive ministry, and teenagers want to be part of something that’s fun. Because of this, student ministries need to know how to have fun and do it often.
Vision and teamwork
This memory also represents the hard work of a team. I can still remember sitting in my office with Trey and John Paul as we brainstormed to craft this amazing event. As I think back on my time in student ministry, (in the church and at Lifeway) it is these brainstorming moments that I continue to treasure. There’s something special when an idea begins to take shape into something that you know is going to have an impact on the lives of people you pastor. This is one reason why I’m such a believer in the phrase “you’re not meant to do student ministry alone.”
This event, and many others, would never have been as good if it were just me in that room, and I would have missed out on the camaraderie that have been created in those moments.
Additionally, this event took an army of our volunteers to execute. They caught the vision and were willing to dive in whole heartedly to see the vision accomplished. This summer, more than any other, there is a temptation to do things on your own. Fight that temptation and find ways to break out of doing student ministry alone. My most favorite memories of student ministry aren’t ones that happened with me alone. They are always ones where a team came together.
The strategy of fun
Each year at this event, we saw teenagers come to know the Lord and ones who had never been to church before begin to engage in what we were doing. Did that cause some unique challenges? Yes, but ones that were totally worth embracing.
For us, strategically, this is why we did it: we wanted to engage the teenagers in our community who were far from Jesus by giving our students something that they wanted to invite their friends to. Truly, each person that came to this event came at the invitation of one of our own teenagers, and it eventually began to be something that even visitors to our church were inviting their friends to.
This memory sticks out to me above others because it represents the very best thing about student ministry: when God takes something you’ve dreamed, built, and executed and does something with it that was so much more than you imagined.
Why God chose to use a hot-dog-themed relay race—I’ll never know, but I’m so glad He did.
The lives of teenagers were changed forever.
I hope this summer that you will stop for a few minutes and review the memories of student ministry that are frozen in your own mind. Often, it is these memories that keep us going during difficult times and serve as reminders of what God has done in the past.
After all, God did instruct His own people throughout the Old Testament to set up altars, piles of stones, or towers as reminders of something He had done. They were there to remind His people of His involvement in their lives and to provide opportunities for people to share the stories of the great moves of God. So, take some time to look through the photo album of memories that you have about the best things in student ministry and make sure you tell the story to someone else.
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.