"This generation thinks that Church is about getting something."
Exclaimed Jamey Dickens during his session at this year's Orange Conference in Atlanta, GA. To which he responded, "But church must be about becoming someone."
The catch, however, is that this issue is more than a generational one. Dickens asserts that the reason why our kids sit on the couch, stay disengaged from our programs, and remain aloof from one another is because adult leaders (that's you and me) have told them to sit down on the couch. BOOM!
Dickens offers 5 steps to begin leading through this issue and proactively responding to the great question: "How do I get my students off the couch?"
1. Lead with a Vision. Students are looking for answers to questions about why and who regarding life and faith. They want an epic story. They want a worthy cause and desire over which they can give their life! And the great news: Christians have the why and who, we have an epic story, and we have the worthiest and greatest cause! Students follow great vision. Be on the lookout for a post about how to communicate that kind of great vision.
2. Give Students a Role in Growing Their Own Faith. I think this may be the most important step. For a student to get off the couch, she and he must have a desire to want to know Jesus more and begin walking toward him. Students need concrete steps, not major leaps. These leaps feel daunting. Do you feel overwhelmed when you think about your retirement plans? I do, because God-willing, it's still 50 years away! Teenagers feel the same way when they think about faith, especially when its set in abstraction. Focus on simple and attainable goals. Teach them the basics over and over again. Keep it simple, keep it doable, and keep it effective. Make sure they can track their goals. AND CELEBRATE WITH THEM WHEN THEY ACCOMPLISH ONE!
3. Connect Students with Relationships. This is the motivational tipping point for why students will begin taking steps toward owning their faith. Relationships drive the world of teenagers. Developmentally, teens are deep in the process of deconstruction, and the most significant hook that chains them to the ground of reality is a relationship. Connect a teenager with someone older, not a parent or peer. Spend time with them on their turf. Go to a game. Cross the boundaries of our world into theirs, and build a friendship with them that resembles the incarnation of God through Jesus Christ. As you do so, connect them also with someone at least 5-6 years younger, and let them begin taking ownership and responsibility of not only their faith, but someone else's.
4. Give Students Leadership in Your Program. Who knows better than you how to reach out to other high school students? Your high school students! Solicit their input. Give students responsibility for particular components of the program with your oversight. Do not let them make decisions. Your ministry is not a democracy. It is an autocracy, and you are the autocrat! Get them on stage, and make them famous amongst their peers. Spotlight lead others. Allow your core students to host newer students. Extend your platform for them to share their testimony. Gurard the quality of program, and be cautious not to let it slip due to students taking on too much leadership. Rather, carefully disciple and equip students to become ministry leaders, not passive couch warmers. Soon you will observe over time more students remaining rooted and connected to your program, even after they graduate from high school.
5. Partner with Them to Reach Their Schools and Friends. This final point brings the whole conversation on student leadership together. Students who take on this task have caught the vision for ministry and are now "Leading their friends with a vision" (see point 1) for the sake of others getting to know Jesus! Create a safe, fun, and clean community for other teens to invite their friends. Train your core students leaders into a process at which they can win and experience success. And CELEBRATE every student that gets caught and fished into the program by one of your student leaders!
Cultivating student leaders is one of the most difficult tasks in student ministry. It takes a lot of time - hundreds of hours of personal investment. It's filled with lots of ups and downs, emotions, and doubts.
Yet, nothing quite compares in ministry when a teenager goes all in with you and desires to partner with the program for the sake of reaching their friends for Jesus. Stay in it… don't give up… and may you experience soon the joy and privilege of raising today's teenage leaders!
QUESTION: Do you have a story of equipping and training a student leader? If so, how did you do it, and what emotions did you experience it along the way?