As we have read through Sticky Faith, one issue has risen to the surface for both Evan, our children’s pastor, and for me. We recognize how crucial it is for students to be actively serving in strategic roles in our children’s ministry. As we’ve prayed, reviewed, studied, and discussed the whole idea, we’ve hit on some core values we are working hard to make standard in our ministries.
1. Students are not babysitters – We both recognize that for students to pour deeply into the children’s ministry, they have to be given roles beyond passing out crayons. Obviously, serving humbly in any setting is a hallmark of following Jesus. But when there are responsibilities greater than the base level, students need to be given a chance to take those on along with adults.
2. Students need training – Evan has done an amazing job of working with our students who have come into his ministry to provide formal and on the job training. He meets with them regularly and offers them specialized training and mentoring. This is a big step for a children’s pastor to take, but it pays off.
3. Students can mentor children in unique ways. – No one is cooler to an elementary student than a caring, listening middle school or high school student. They can have an impact and model a Christ-centered lifestyle for children in unique and powerful ways.
4. Students create a system of high expectations – In our system, 11th and 12th grade students serve as leaders in middle school. The 8th, 9th, and 10th graders can serve in our older elementary programs. Our 6th and 7th graders serve in the younger elementary and preschool programs. As we place students carefully, train and mentor them, and give them strategic roles, it does something very special. Kids in our church grow up assuming it is completely normal and expected that they will mentor younger kids. When we discuss making disciples, a system exists in which they have experienced it, and look forward to getting old enough to be a part of it themselves. They have seen great things from other students, and have high expectations of themselves as they grow.
5. It creates Sticky Faith – When you read the book and the research, you quickly find that having students engaged with other believers of different ages, and having students regularly serving are two of the highest indicators of a student developing sticky faith. By having our students partner with other adults in the children’s ministry, we hit both of those goals in one shot. And, more importantly, we have seen it work in student’s lives when they move on from our church. It actually works.
Now, clearly, there are obstacles, or else there would be no need for me to write this post because everyone would already be doing what we are doing. Here are a few of them, and how we are working to answer them.
1. Not all students are ready – Nope. They aren’t. But this is only about helping develop students who want to grow. We don’t just plug a student in because they say they want to. They have to show a level of commitment and maturity for their age. We say no to students, and do it often.
2. Not all adults are ready – Nope. They aren’t. Not every adult is ready to let a student take on key roles in “their” classroom, nor are they all able to effectively work with students. That’s why they are in the children’s ministry. Evan has to work to choose wisely the adults to partner students with, and then coach both sides to help them with the transition.
3. Students may blow it spiritually – Yep. There’s no maybe to it. The adults will too. But we aren’t looking for people to act falsely perfect in our ministries. When they blow it, we step in and help them. You may have to help a student take a break while they re-align their lives. But if you prayerfully choose well, and lovingly mentor these students, it’s a small minority of the time.
4. Students are flaky and won’t show up – Yep, sometimes. That’s part of the mentoring process. Evan and I work hard to remember that our volunteers aren’t there to make our jobs easier. They are there so we can pastor them, mentor them, and train them for the works of service Jesus has planned for them. This means teaching volunteers of all ages why their commitment matters.
There are other issues that we can come with, but I trust that you get the idea. We don’t take students on because it’s the easiest way. We do it because it matters: it matters to the ministry, it matters to the children being loved and mentored, it matters to the adult volunteers who get to see God work through students, it matters to the families blessed, it matters to the Kingdom, and it matters to the students who develop sticky faith. I would absolutely LOVE to hear your ideas, concepts, stories, etc. of using students as pastors. Feel free to comment below.