If we are totally honest, youth ministry can sometimes feel like a rat race of crazy games, junk food and making sure that the middle schoolers stay alive before their parents arrive. This is especially true if you are bi-vocational and youth ministry is your “second job”. Sometimes you simply feel like you’re caught in the hamster wheel and you can’t get out. So when it comes to effective communication and teens, how do we gage if the message is really sinking in? Because after all, we want to see students grow in their thinking and knowledge of God, right? But where do we even begin to dig and find out what our students believe?
Here are three ways I think you can get a pulse on where students are and start to see traction around what they believe.
Ask great questions.
First and foremost, in order to know where your students are in their theology, you have to get a gage of what they think and believe. Now this can take some time, but if you start asking really good questions and developing this skill, you will quickly start to see where the holes lie in a student’s theology. For example, I am sitting with a table of students and the question is “Jesus is worth sharing with others. What do you think about this statement?” Now we all know we are in church and that the answer is “Yes, Jesus is worth sharing.” But maybe we could ask the question in a way that helps spur the conversation more and really gets to the heart of it. What if instead, we asked “Do you think Jesus is worth sharing with others? Why or why not?” And the “why or why not” is really important because it gives students an opportunity to think about and defend why they believe what they do. You also begin to create a culture where it is safe to say “I don’t buy any of this.” You want this so that students feel safe inviting non-believing friends to church, and opening up about their own doubts. Hone in on the art of asking better questions and begin to get a pulse on what your students really believe.
Relational ministry wins every time.
Growing up in the 90’s youth ministry scene, I am a child of big-over-the-top games and events, huge youth groups and a bigger-is-better philosophy around student ministry. And don’t get me wrong, it was awesome! We used to rent out the whole entire pool a couple times a summer, invite a band to come play (Superchick and Switchfoot to name a few) and we called it Grunge and Plunge. Those were amazing events that brought teens out in droves. But what we didn’t often see was the personal connection and deep relationships forming. And it’s that relational ministry where I have personally seen the most fruit in youth ministry. I love the big event, but without intentionally taking advantage of building one-on-one connection, we are missing the opportunity to see real life transformation. Because when camp is over and a student has to go back to their crappy home situation, who are they gonna call? How will they stand on their faith? They need a life-line (like we all do) and so use the events and the camps to build long lasting relationships with students so you create space to work out how theology meets students in their real lives. Students need help navigating these spaces and it’s in the midst of life crisis that God often does the most work on what we think and believe.
Build an army.
I almost want to burst into “onward Christian soldier” here but I will refrain. Jesus commands us to “make disciples of all nations” and you probably know that if you are here and a part of this community of youth pastors and leaders. In youth ministry though, we often think too small and only think of it in terms of discipling teens. However, if the most effective ministry is relational ministry, then we need more than ourselves to do that work. We need a whole army of people who are investing in teens and doing the long-haul work of living life with students. And you may be thinking, “yeah, yeah, I know, I need more leaders. But Rachel, I don’t have anyone in my church who can help or wants to help.” And if this is you, I would first challenge you to take this thought to God. He is truly the Lord of the harvest and He is raising up “workers” to love and serve His church. Ask God for wisdom on who to approach about stepping up and serving students. Maybe you have a really good group of leaders but they are just not investing the way you would like to see and you don’t feel like you are getting any traction on effectively communicating to your students. Invest in your leaders. Just as relational ministry wins with students, it wins with leaders and adults too. Invest in their lives, and what is happening behind the scenes for them. Do a little digging to really see what your leaders believe, because maybe they need some refreshing on their own theology.
The point here is to look up from our busy work of planning games, and curriculum and see people. See the people that God has placed right in front of you and ask God what He sees. He will show you how to effectively reach them and give you wisdom on the next steps to take.