If I were to ask you what role the student ministry plays within the life of your local church, how would you answer? Would they be the next generation of the church, separated off during corporate worship times? Would they be incorporated into the church without the opportunity to gather together exclusively with others in their age group? The answer to this question reveals one’s philosophy on intergenerational discipleship.
Here’s what I mean: in the first example above, we see the students separated without meaningful connections to the church. If we isolate students from the rest of the gathered church, we are taking away opportunities to have their lives shaped by other adults in the body. As a student minister, it’s my job to think of ways to create meaningful connections within the collective church body.
Friday, we saw how the coronavirus pandemic reveals our need for community. This need is universal throughout our entire lives. For teenagers, even though this need is most immediately met through community with those around the same age, they need others to speak into their lives as well. Parents, extended family, and pastors all have a role to play, but we must not overlook the role of other adults in the church.
The distance placed between many student ministries and church bodies usually begins with good intentions. Maybe we are trying to create a more welcoming environment for teens. Maybe the worship schedule at the church is crowded, so the only youth gathering can happen while the adults are in the worship service. Maybe the only available gathering area is in a separate building, making it more difficult to feel like a part of the church. Whatever the reason may be, now is the time to reevaluate our programming to help better connect our teens to other adults in the church. Here are three reasons why:
1. Teenagers Benefit from the Life Experiences of Adults
Both teens and older adults feel hesitant to interact with one another. I’ve heard the reasoning many times, always from a good heart- someone feels hesitant to volunteer in the ministry because they’re concerned they can’t relate to students. As we grow older and mature, God gives us more stories to share with others. We receive stories of His faithfulness provision, goodness, and grace. These stories are powerful to teenagers, often drawing them in and serving as the foundation for many conversations.
Many stories revolve around the difficult decisions teenagers have to face. While today’s culture is significantly different than it was even ten years ago, many of the big decisions remain the same. By connecting teens with older adults, students have an opportunity to hear how these decisions made (or didn’t make) that big of a difference. There’s an opportunity to learn from mistakes or wrong decisions. There’s also an opportunity to encourage students towards faithfulness, rooted in an adult’s desire to share what they wished they knew at that age.
2. A Unified Church Displays the Gospel to the World Around Us
What other mission could possibly unite people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and age like the gospel of Jesus Christ? In a culture where teenage rebellion is normalized, we have an opportunity to display the uniting power of the gospel to a world full of unbelievers.
Whether it’s leading the people of God in worship through music, serving on the audio/visual team, greeting, setting up and tearing down, teenagers and adults serving together displays the glory of God. Consider how you might plug your students into service opportunities during church events and the weekly gathering. By serving together, the walls between teens and adults quickly come down and relationships are formed.
3. We Have an Opportunity to Train Students to Lead
Teenagers who trust in Jesus for salvation have a part to play in the church. They need adults who are willing to take the time to train them and teach them what it means to use their gifts to serve others. The encouragement from a caring adult is powerful. These words of life are useful in the spiritual formation of young believers.
As a minister of the gospel, I’m always working myself out of a job. This truth extends to all of us. We all need to be training up those who will replace us. When we hold on to our roles within the church with clenched fists, we are keeping some of the most gifted and passionate individuals from being able to serve. Instead of seeking to hold on to our positions for our own good, we have an opportunity to show young people what it looks like to serve in humility.
Student pastors, let me encourage you to take this season to reevaluate your student ministry. Consider how you might use your position to connect other adults with teenagers!
Is there another reason I didn’t mention? Have something you’d like to add? Leave a comment or reach out to me on the connect page.