by Patrick Vail
(Part three of a five-part series)
Working with student ministries? You have got to be crazy! They do not even watch the kids. They run crazy. How are we going to find anything in common? All they do is play paintball and tear up the church equipment! No way! Do not get us started on planning!
Admit it! We have all had those thoughts about student ministries (if not, you are lying and Jesus is watching). Well, let me be the first to say that I had those thoughts. And when our church got to the point that we were combining our ministries under the umbrella of Next Gen, my parental instincts took over, and I did not want to share my resources, my time, my efforts, my creativity. Notice all the “me’s.” God had a heart-to-heart with me and my feelings I was having.
To help you understand, and maybe you already do understand, my history with youth pastors has not been the best. My experience had found that they had a personal agenda to become a lead pastor of their own church, and regardless of who stood in their way they were going to reach that goal. Well, left in their wake were families, kids, other staff and resources to name a few. You name it and it suffered. I sure was not going to let these kids whom I have spent at least four years with go into that chaos.
Obviously, all that changed and it had to because of what was at stake. I needed to get over my own roadblocks and setbacks before I could do any sort of Kingdom work.
If you have been following the series up to this point, Kim Vaught our Next Gen Pastor, shared that prayer was our first step and it was. We took all these hurts and hang-ups to the Lord and asked Him to sort it all out, not only in our hearts but also logistically across the entire span birth through eighteen years of age.
Where does Elementary fit into the Next Gen picture?
At Montgomery Community Church, our children’s ministry is called Crosstown and is divided in to two sections: early childhood (birth through kindergarten) and elementary (first through sixth grade). As you know elementary is a formative part of any child’s spiritual development. As elementary directors, we can spit out a handful of Barna stats to any large crowd supporting our efforts week-in and week-out. These years are important years. Amen? So in this new model where do these kids fit and how does a team that has worked very well together open up to include more people? Our Crosstown team was rockin’. Why add more?
What needed to change?
Well, first my attitude needed to change. When I realized the breadth, scope, and possibilities that would open up, I could start to see the big picture. We were no longer a children’s and student ministry; we were becoming a family ministry! Oh yeah! That is cool, big and hairy. That is a Goliath to go up against. Now we are talking. If our mission statement is going to include “to impact the lives of kids with the love and message of Jesus Christ” then we need to start impacting the lives of families birth through eighteen years!
I was starting to see the big picture, but they (student ministries) still come with a bunch of preconceptions and assumptions. How is that going to play out? How could we bridge the obvious gaps?
As the leader of our new Next Gen team, Kim was very purposeful about getting us to know the other leader’s situations and had us reading and talking immediately as a team. (You can read more about this in part one of the series featured in the January Insight.)My lack of appreciation and understanding was quickly diminished after we finished the bookHurt by Chap Clark. Not that I did not know that some of the things addressed in the book were happening, I just did not have to deal with them on the scale that student’s had to deal with them. Soon, my prayer time was filled with praying for the pastors, volunteers, coaches, teachers, anyone that had a connection to students.
The next step was our obvious gaps. For us here the gaps are between sixth and seventh grade and eighth and ninth grade transitions. We needed to come together and bridge those gaps. We started having our Junior High Pastor come and lead large group time with our fifth and sixth graders three or four times a year. In addition, he would attend retreats and events to become a familiar face to all the kids. It is amazing that simply playing games with the kids and doing praise and worship with them has made the transition into Junior High ministries that much easier.
What does the big picture look like now?
The big picture now has greater clarity, impact and energy than ever. Things are not perfect, but there is a plan in place. A great example is discipleship. Before, we had independent programs aiming at discipleship that were working well. Since we have gone “Next Gen” we have sat down as a team, with our Senior Adults Ministry and Equipping Ministry, to lay out a plan to include our senior adults as leaders in the lives of our kids and students. Very cool I must admit!
The other example is curriculum and objectives. Before, we only considered Crosstown’s curriculum flow and did not worry what was happening after they left our ministry- that was their problem, not ours. (As I write this, I cannot believe that we did not consider that earlier.) So now we are asking the questions to each other on the team, “When they reach this grade, what will they have learned?” As an aside, I love student ministries when they ask about what topics we teach them. After responding, they look at you crazy and say what do you mean; you do not talk about dating, sex, or pornography. Funny to a point, but it is all part of getting to know the other person’s culture better.
How can I help them succeed?
This is my new outlook. How can I help the team succeed? What can I do to help junior and senior high to meet their goals? If I need to be a part of an event or share a resource, what can I do? This question is a game changer. Understand that this question destroys silos, tears down barriers that were once there and sets you up as a humble servant to the needs of others. And is that the key to greatness?
Stayed tuned for the perspective of our Junior High Director in next month’s Insight.
Montgomery Community Church/Cincinnati, OH