Even though 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year to maintain a planning calendar – with planning done merely weeks to a month in advance – there is something we can all do as student pastors to help us prepare for the months and even years ahead.
Take the pulse of your students and how that reflects on the future of your ministry.
Obviously, I mean this in a figurative way. Even Jesus did something much like this when He asked His disciples to go out into the village of Caesarea Philippi and have His disciples ask who the people say that He is.
It’s somewhat similar to asking about church members or visitors in our congregations. We might ask someone, “What’s he like?” or “What’s the story on her?” There is a definite need to gather information in order to gain a greater understanding of what is true and how we can best minister to people.
That’s what Jesus did. He let them hear what the people said (of which they were all wrong) and then let them draw their own conclusion about who He really was: the Messiah.
Often in ministry, we forge our own paths and forget to take stock of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we can do better. One major way to accomplish that is to take the pulse of your student ministry.
Here are four reasons why it’s a good idea to stop, take a deep breath and hear from your students and parents about your ministry:
- Keeps your ministry from growing stale. It’s easy to take the same path over and over, to just do what works and has worked for so long. But what may be working may also be growing stale at the same time. A piece of bread that has been sitting in a package past its expiration date may not have mold on it yet, but it won’t taste like it should. Your students can help you understand if what you’re doing is losing its impact, sometimes even just by their participation level or obvious groans when you mention that “thing” you’ve done a hundred times before.
- Shows that you’re listening. Sometimes listening isn’t always in response to an overt question. Listening can also be actively paying attention to the overall mood, participation level and interest of your students. Often, they will tell you when something isn’t working or when they want something to change, but mostly they won’t. By paying attention to how they react and respond, it shows a level of active listening that is rare for most people and can go a long way in creating an environment of loyalty and trust.
- Guards you from complacency. One of the worst things for any minister is to fall into complacency, a false security and that puts you in a place where you’re unaware of dissatisfaction around you. Student ministry should never fall into the trap of being comfortable. What I mean is that there are too many students who have no knowledge of the Gospel, no relationship with Jesus and no home life that supports it. If we get too comfortable in our plan and purpose for our ministry, we run the risk of not hearing from God. Sometimes that way we hear from God is through the hurt, frustration, questions and heartache of our students. Keeping the pulse of their deepest fears and questions keeps us on the front lines of the war for their hearts.
- Brings us back to the Gospel. What Jesus did with His disciples was to get them to ask questions so they could find the right answer. He knew where He was going with His plan, and that was to make sure they knew the good news of who He really is. All of our plans and preparations for anything should always bring us back to the Gospel, by either reminding students of who Jesus is or helping them understand Him for the first time. We should never assume every student in our ministry is saved, even if they have been in church for years.
Ministry is tough and ever-changing. A year like 2020 only magnifies the fact that we need God to lead us more than ever. We are not entering into a time of “back to normal” but to a new thing God is doing with our churches and with our world. That means how we plan and prepare for student ministry must change with how God is changing us.
When you’re stuck, take the pulse of your ministry by understanding and listening to where your students are and what they need.