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Next Gen: A Restructuring of Priorities (Junior High Ministry)

by Matt Syrus

(Part four of a five-part series)

The popular show on ABC called Modern Family depicts what our culture would call “modern” or “normal.” However as a believer of Christ, this show could not be any further from what should be considered “modern” or “normal” in our lives. The best model that I can find in the Bible is from Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The problem is so often we as Christians are pulled into the “patterns of this world.” This means we look no different then all the other families that live on our streets in America.

For the past fourteen months our church’s Student Ministry (EPIC) and Children’s Ministry (Crosstown) have combined under one umbrella called Next Gen. It is under this one umbrella that we have been able to work toward all the gaps from children’s to student ministries being filled. As I work with junior high, it is more critical than ever to make those connections and crossovers in order to not loose kids in the process. From the mega-church to the small church, it is very easy to let kids and students fall through the cracks if you are not intentional. Our Next Gen team is very intentional to not let this happen.

We, as Christians, are allowing the world to dictate what is considered “normal” when in fact very little of our culture should be normal to us. The culture of the area we live in (just outside of Cincinnati) is one of heavy over-programming. Families put an emphasis on playing a sport year-round, taking AP classes, having a tutor in order to receive straight A’s, being involved in as many clubs as you can for service hours and civic achievement, as well as playing several instruments and the list goes on.

I often hear from parents “Jonny” or “Jill” is a good kid and does well in school. That is great, but are they a godly kid? Do you want good kids in your program or do you want godly kids? It is a tough balance because what is right is not always fair! As a Next Gen Team we refuse to “conform to the patterns of this world.” We have decided to have tough conversations with parents, students and children. We believe that the family is the most important piece that is missing in this post-modern, fast-paced society we live in. The healthy and tough conversations have happened as a result of us being on a team that is unified in spirit and truth.

What is the payoff?

By combining children’s ministry and student ministry we have much more synergy, consistency, accountability and diversity. We look at this team as if it were a marriage. The two have certainly become one. It is awesome to see God getting all the glory for what He is doing! I fully believe that ministries that are not working under this model or something similar are crippling themselves as a result. It is too easy to become silos when not working under a unifying model and silo ministries are not healthy for the Kingdom. When ministries are not connected it is too easy to say that “this is mine” and “that is yours.” A Next Gen or family model is about sharing, team, Kingdom, family-focus and together seeing children become students and enter adulthood as fully equipped Disciples of Christ.

What Have I Learned?

I have learned so much about children’s ministry these past fourteen months. It is easy to assume that children’s ministry is all about crafts and singing songs. I have learned that it is so much more than that! When our student ministry department was asked to readTransforming Children into Spiritual Champions by George Barna, it allowed us to see things from the other side of the fence. I developed a whole new perspective on what children’s pastors must do in order to succeed. I can appreciate even more the fact that children’s leaders have to focus on everything from food allergies, background checks, adult to children ratios and much more! Not that I do not have to consider these things as well but, it has valuable to be able to walk in each other’s shoes. We are intentionally becoming cross trained just as a corporate company would do.

Our Elementary Pastor has helped me see my role more clearly by intentionally inviting me to take part in our preteen events and activities. This really helps the children get comfortable around me sooner. Meeting them sooner really helps bridge the gap from elementary to junior high.

Where do you go from here?

I think it is important to do what works! As the old saying goes “if the shoe fits, wear it.” We realize that not every church in America is going to scoop up the “Next Gen model” and implement it immediately and that is okay. The forewarning is that combining two teams into one takes work and if you are not ready then wait. I think the important thing to realize is if you are in Children’s Ministry and do not know what is going on in Student Ministry, you need to know and visa versa. If you are not communicating with each other that is not healthy. You can begin to work towards this model or a similar format by beginning to build those relationships and tear down silos.

Final Thought

I have learned that it is all about this team of Children’s and Student Pastors, Administrative Assistants, Creative Designers, Worship Leaders and Volunteers that make this organization function. When God is working in unison in every one’s hearts (because you are aligned) it is a beautiful thing.

It is funny to think that our local schools (elementary, junior high and high school) have tons of planning and strategic meetings in order to provide a seamless transition from one to the next and yet, the Church does not see the need to address those transitions.

If we are going to take back our homes and churches in this land that God has given us, then we must put our own agendas aside, stop trying to make a name for ourselves and focus on building His Church!

Matt Syrus 
Jr. High Pastor (7th & 8th Grades)
Montgomery Community Church
[email protected]

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