Ministry to Students vs. Ministry of Students

I previously wrote an article discussing my trust issues with letting other adults teach and lead.  I’ve had some good follow-up conversations from it, and wanted to put the second part in play as well.  I’m really working through the idea of a ministry to students (which is what we’ve been doing) as opposed to a ministry of students (which we just dabble in).  There is a TON of ongoing discussion in youth ministry about “student lead ministry.”  I’m really wrestling with what exactly that looks like in our context.

I hear these stories from speakers and authors about how the kids in their groups are organizing global events and saving the world, all without adult help.  I even heard one recent speaker make the comment that if there is an adult in the youth meeting, he/she had better not speak at all, or else the students are expected to kick them out of the meeting.  Ok, this speaker was clearly WAY overstating their case, and going to an extreme to shock/impress the audience.  It did very little for me.  That simply isn’t a Biblical approach if we take that literally, which I know the speaker didn’t even do.

But what DOES it look like to train students to do ministry?  Some of the proponents of this idea discuss making sure everyone “on stage” at youth group is a student, right down to always having students teach.  That might be it, but I think that’s incomplete.  We often discuss how youth ministry is supposed to exist outside the walls of the church, but then consider “extreme” discipleship making with students letting them plan/run the youth group program at church.  Could it be more?

Our churches need to push towards a model where “church” literally happens more outside the building than in it.  I don’t necessarily mean moving our worship services to a park for a week (although that can often be a tool to make everyone reconsider what “church” is).  I mean changing our philosophy towards ministry, who does it, and where does it happen.  We need to actually move towards designing ministries that thrive outside of our safe walls.  Our personal ministry goal is to move, incrementally, over the next five years, to where 75% of our ministry happens outside of the church building.  We aren’t reducing what we do now.  We are strategically implementing methods that don’t exist right now to do ministry “out there”.  Before you ask for the PDFs, I don’t know what that’s going to look like in its entirety.  It’s a five-year plan, where each year, we push out a little farther.

This is where my questioning a ministry “to students” vs. one “of students” comes in.  I can try to go out and make new students ministries in our community, and I will.  But I will never hit our goal of 75% outside, while keeping all we currently do going in a healthy manner as well.  I could task adults with it, but they will struggle as well.  But what if I give this goal to our students?  What if they go and create, in their world?  What if we meet with them, train them, encourage them, pray with them, and then follow them as they lead out of the church?  What impact on our group, our church, our community might that have over the next half decade?  What will they learn about being disciples?  Or what might they internalize about what the word “church” means?  Yeah, it could get potent really fast.

This is where we are headed.  I don’t know what it will look like, or what it will become.  It’s okay.  I don’t have to.  (And I am a MAJOR control freak).  Jesus does, and He will tell the students as they need to know.  It’ll be fun.

I’d love to hear your successes, failures, or thoughts on all of this.

Thanks for thinking it through with me.

3 thoughts on “Ministry to Students vs. Ministry of Students

  1. Is it possible you are over-thinking this? Why can’t a youth group be both “to” and “of” the group? Teaching is important and a huge part of teaching are repetition and mistakes. Kids do great with service to others, but usually need to be directed and organized.

    Our kids (all high school) take ownership of the group by including each other, respect and support. They contribute ideas for programing, discussion and leadership. We work hard to create an open relationship so that they can contribute as much as they want and are able.

    Before any service projects we discuss the level of interest with an eye toward commitment. In other words, if they say it’s a great idea, they are agreeing to participate.

    They lead, we organize and direct. They are served and they learn to serve all at they same time. It works great

    1. I completely agree with where you’re at on this. I am not advocating that adults step out of the picture, or that students are given 100% control with no support. I think the issue is a personal one for us. We have been a team that has given the students very little control. They have always had input, we’ve polled their opinions, run ideas by them. But they haven’t had the freedom to really fail. We’ve always protected them. If they had an idea, we would grid it out to the point that often it wasn’t really their idea anymore. So, we are trying to figure out ways to give them more of the reins. I guess you could think of it as we’ve been holding the reins while they stood by and watched, giving ideas. We want to move, in some areas of the ministry, to a point where they are holding the reins, and we stand by and give ideas. It’s definitely not something we want to turn over a 100% of the ministry, but definitely more. I don’t know if that clarifies or not. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it though.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it!

      1. I hope I am getting to the areas in which you are interested. Why not be up front with the kids? We have a senior retreat where we tell them it’s time to pay it forward. We talk about the members that have come before, the benefits of our community and what they can do to make things better.

        We follow that with our leadership expectations– inclusion, modeling listening and respect, hard work, etc.

        We find they really respond. This type of programing can be daunting and feel risky, but no alternative has such a high reward.

        Ignore this if you want, but I have more on my blog in these areas and expect to post more. I’d love some input.

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