A youth pastor’s dream: To partner each student with a dedicated, Christ-following adult step-by-step through the teenage years into college.
Why is this a dream of mine? I believe a healthy ministry model will allow students to graduate high school but not graduate their faith and leave it behind with their alma mater or letterman jacket. I would hope my youth ministry isn’t known for a cool building, fun games, or even great teaching…although those things are important! I hope my ministry would someday be known by it’s leader to student depth of connection, a depth measured by years of intentional discipleship.
Just imagine, rewind the tape back to 13 years old…what if you had a mature, Christ-following adult who was pursuing you 6th grade through your college graduation? Someone other than your parents that you could count on- a mentor, a coach, a confidant. As a 6th grader you might seem shy to the idea of someone older wanting to meet over a slice of pizza or a milkshake, but think about the impact someone could have on a life if they are invested for over 10 years!
I think this is incredibly rare in youth ministry… If the average youth pastor stays at a church for 18 months, I’d like to know how long the average youth leader/volunteer sticks around? From what I have seen I’d estimate the average run for someone serving is 2.5 years. I come up with this number by looking realistically at those few veterans that have been around 10 years, the many that are established in relationships and pouring into students by their high school graduation – putting in 4 years, and those that “try it out” making that one year commitment, but then say, “Sorry, this isn’t for me.”
Building traction and trust with students is essential, and it takes time…a lot of time! If we think about how much time students spend with one another before they share a deep secret, struggle or start talking “life” we can begin to understand just how much intentional time an adult will need to spend in order to get to the core of a student’s spiritual life, life at home, or life at school.
Today I witnessed a 5th grade girl’s small group leader move up with the girls to 6th grade, from children’s ministry into middle school ministry. It was awesome! Despite both the girls and the leader being in a new room with loud music and all the distracting happenings a middle school ministry could bring, all of the girl’s eyes were fixed on their leader. They have a consistent and established Christ-following adult invested in their life. I’m not sure what this leader does in her free time (still getting to know my leaders) but I’m sure that if she is investing an hour at a school volleyball game, an hour at Starbucks, an hour on the phone here and there…she will almost guarantee a higher connection rate, a higher attendance at church rate, a higher vulnerability rate in helping make rational decisions, and most importantly a much more likely chance of her girl’s understanding the person of Jesus Christ.
Throughout my school years I had five different youth leaders. My parents were consistent, Christ-following, church-attending people who invested into me during my teenage years – and I thank God for that. Unfortunately, there are many broken homes, with many teenagers who have been abandoned and are desperately searching for love and attention in all the wrong places. They need that 10 year leader. That teenager needs someone to jump into their life beginning in the 6th grade, or earlier, and live life to the fullest with them through studying the Bible, asking hard questions, attending their high school games, maintaining contact through college and cheering for them at graduation!
The largest dropout rate in the church occurs during a students Freshmen year of college. Just because a student graduates from your church ministry does that mean they also graduate from your personal ministry to them? We live in an era of easy connectivity. Stay engaged. Pursue their life. Point them to the finish line of faith.
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