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Let’s face it: college students are not the most dependable volunteer pool on the face of the planet.
The problem goes both ways. Sometimes, college students only show up at youth group for a semester before moving on. And as a result, sometimes youth leaders come to expect that, so they don’t bother investing much time in equipping or training their college students. And, as a result, college students often don’t feel very connected to the ministry. And, as a result….
You get the idea. Vicious cycle. I understand that there’s really no simple way to solve this. College students are in a time where they’re figuring out what God wants them to do with their lives. They’re often busy, distracted, and, well, a little immature (I completely put myself in all of those categories, by the way). They might have overcommitted and genuinely need to cut back, or maybe practical concerns like study abroad get in the way.
So, what’s a youth pastor to do? Well, you could rely on guilt-inducing speeches, or force volunteers to sign a four-year contract. If that’s not your style, here are three simple resources you can provide to encourage college student leaders to get more involved in their students’ lives on a regular basis.
It meant a lot when I showed up at various theater, music, or sports events that my girls participated in. But I know a lot of leaders who only found out about an event a week after it was over when it came up in the “praise” time of prayer requests and felt bad that they hadn’t been there. (“Oh, you won the district soccer tournament? That…cool. Wow. I didn’t even know you played soccer.”) Sometimes, it just doesn’t come up.
That’s why it’s a great idea have school calendars for the leaders and tell them to ask the students in their group at the beginning of every month if there’s a concert or game coming up for them. This is also helpful so leaders know, for example, when the students have a day off school so they can plan a party or hang-out time.
Some school websites have a link to their calendar, but for others, you might need to contact the school to get one, then make photocopies. Make sure you get calendars from all the schools that are represented, even the one that two kids go to, so no one feels left out. (And mention to leaders to check with the homeschoolers and write down anything they might be involved in. Poor homeschoolers sometimes get left out.)
If you have college student leaders, they probably have a ton of things going on. I get that. I was involved in at least three other activities, had a full course load and a campus job, and didn’t own a car. That meant that I only went to a few events per year. But I did what I could. Make sure you emphasize to your leaders that this is not meant to put pressure on them to do everything. It just gives them options for connecting with their students outside of youth group.
List of Names
No matter how often people told me how important it was to pray for the students in my group every day, I would forget. Let’s face it: I am a disorganized, scatterbrained person who does not work well with consistent routine, until I actually wrote down the girls’ names and put the list somewhere where I saw it frequently. That triggered my brain to say, “Oh! You’re supposed to be praying for these girls. Do it now, before you forget.”
For visual people like me, it can help if you print out a list of student names for your leaders and ask them to use it as a prayer reminder. They can highlight the names of students in their groups and just pray for them, if they want. Or, chances are, you’ll have at least a few super-motivated prayer warriors whose spiritual gift is lifting people before the Lord, and they’ll tackle the whole list. Whatever the case, sometimes it’s nice to have a simple reminder.
On a totally non-spiritual note, it helps to have a list of first and last names so you can find students on Facebook. Just sayin’.
Parallel Teaching Schedule
I really had no idea what to call this, but let me explain what I mean. Something that’s really good for college leaders (probably any leaders) to know is what the students are learning in Sunday School, in Wednesday night Bible study, in any programming where they aren’t present.
That might just mean sending an email to leaders with a sentence or two saying, “Hey, just FYI, Sunday mornings the high schoolers are working their way through the miracles of Jesus and talking about whether it makes sense to believe in miracles when we have modern science. If you get a chance, ask them what they think about this.”
If you want honest feedback from your students, this is a good way to get it (they’ll tell their college student leader things that they wouldn’t tell you). It also just helps youth group workers make connections to other things the students are learning.
Because I knew the Bible quizzing team (half my group participated) was studying the epistles, I knew they loved it when I used examples from those books, because they were really familiar with the context. Because I knew that several of my group members were in the weekday morning evangelism training, I could ask how they were feeling about talking to their unsaved friends. It’s great to have that cross-over knowledge.
Chances are, not all of your leaders will make full use out of all three of these resources. But they’re easy to provide, and I think they challenge college students to take their role in the ministry seriously. If you let them know that you expect them to do more than just show up and play dodgeball, maybe they’ll actually exceed your expectations.
Amy Green is an amazing “all-in” volunteer, just graduated from Taylor University and has worked with one group of Junior-high students her whole career in college. You can check out Amy’s blog here: http://justthefiction.blogspot.com/
I once helped lead an event with hundreds of teens passionate to grow, learn, serve and share. We sent various groups to detention centers, to scrub public busses and to clean gas station bathrooms throughout the week. That last one was truly an “interesting” experience. You are probably asking yourself why anyone would sign up for such an activity, but hold that question. The answer to that is the point of this whole post.
One day my team was assigned the not-so-painful task of handing out water at the beach. Imagine the scene: One beach on Lake Michigan in Chicago, Ninety degrees and ten thousand people. We were going to give out water bottles and just talk to people. We were thinking service and relationships because we had this crazy idea that ministry was just that simple. Ministry is offering your life into people’s needs. And these weekend beach people needed something. We thought they needed Jesus. They thought they needed to not pay 4.50 for a drink. Both groups were right. As I pulled up on the bus I told the teens they were never going to forget this day. I was also right but for the all wrong reasons.
I am not amazing at math but consider this equation: 10,000 thirsty people + sweltering heat x by people seeing a free five bucks. The planning team had planned poorly. They had sent 72 bottles of water. The correct answer to the equation is to RUN. I literally had to physically rescue someone from the mob. One guy grabbed as much as he could carry and then tried to stick bottles into his not so modest swimsuit. We just watched in awkward awe.
As you may have already concluded, it became clear we did not bring enough water. We had the major problem that as our water evaporated so did our conversation starter. The water was gone in under two minutes and we had zero meaningful conversations.
Now here is your chance: What would you do? These opportunities define us, they tell us what we are made of, and they show us that we should have brought more water.
The next moment was the moment that I decided I would write this book. It was a God moment when adults step back in a different type of awe. It was a space God invaded and partnered with teenagers. These teens showed “the leaders” what it means to lead and how ministry can infuse every action of our lives. They decided to collect garbage from those on the beach. Their friends were cleaning public restrooms and they were not able to give up.
So my team went blanket to blanket and simply asked to collect their trash. Many sunbathers were incredulous and even tried to make a “donation,” which we politely refused (have to admit, the $50 was a toughie). As the minutes of garbage collecting wore on the teens simply got invited to sit and talk about the fascinating person called Jesus and how this weird God would ask them to serve strangers. It was a powerful day full of service with great stories of Christ’s name being elevated. I now believe that teens can lead, make a difference and transform lives all while sitting on beach towels. I believe you are one of those teens or leaders.
Several groups came with us and they too were mobbed for free water. Standing on a beach, with hours before our departure, they had come prepared. Swimsuits and Frisbees materialized. Calling it a day, they went and played. Three minutes of “ministry” and 3 hours tanning and swimming, all while many other groups scrubbed toilets in public bathrooms.
This turn of events was distressing to me. Why would a teen travel half-way across the country so they could be equipped to lead and share and then give up after minutes? Even more insane, in my mind, was the fact that they came ready. It seemed this was their intention from the beginning. What was the difference between the two sets? Between the servants and the sunbathers?
I think for one group the ministry goal somehow was confused. It became “handing out water.” Once that goal was accomplished, or no longer possible for safety reasons, ministry ceased. Another perspective, from another set of students, allowed them to see opportunities all around to minister to people that Jesus loved. They looked at other people like Jesus did and ended up just plain looking like Jesus.
I am going to suggest that you are the servant kind and not the sunbather. I suspect you don’t think of yourself as a leader. But here are three things I believe about you:
1) That you can see people as Jesus saw people;
2) That you can give your life to something bigger and more meaningful than you can imagine;
3) and in doing so you will look like Jesus.
Oh, and doing these things will make you a leader too, but that is just bonus.
“They tore it all down. The whole building had to be reconstructed from the dirt up.”
I was astounded at the waste. A team of men and teens from a church in the states had traveled to Central America to bless the missionaries and natives. They were to build a vocational school building in the jungle at the mission compound. Problems quickly arose as the mission workers disagreed with local workers concerning material, style and process of building. Soon the local workers backed off and allowed the building to progress right up to the struts. Time ran out and the team left convinced they had provided a superior and modern quality structure, all but finished. Then the missionaries and local workers tore it down. The North Americans had insisted on materials and building processes that could not be completed due to lack of tools, would not stand the weather of the jungle and could not be adequately maintained with the equipment and resources at hand.
They returned home convinced of their selfless act, reinforced in their bias and pride. They had wasted weeks of time and tens of thousands of dollars. The church service at home stylized them as servants of Christ. I was astounded at the pride of these men. And then I saw the missionary looking me in the eye, and was astounded at the potential for my pride and knew why he was telling me the story.
Have you ever wondered why service occasionally makes us proud? It would seem quite the opposite. We expect humility to be developed and instead we are reinforcing our ruin.
Larry Crab, spiritual formation director and counselor, states that,
“brokenness is not a disease, like cancer, that may or may not develop. Brokenness is a condition, one that is always there, inside, beneath the surface, carefully hidden for as long as we can keep the façade in place….It is the nature of things that our natural foundations must be destroyed if true spirituality is to develop. There is no other way.” (Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, 11)
Our primary approach to spiritual problems, the dark valleys, is to fix and repair instead of realizing that these are opportunities to open ourselves to God’s work, usually through his community.
There is an acute need for brokenness in the life of an individual in order for the journey of spiritual growth to be beneficial to them. Many would state this as a prerequisite and as the beginning of Christ-like spirituality. The first step is brokenness over one’s own sin and depravity and a whole-hearted abandon to the power and mercy of the cross.
“Brokenness is a realization that life is too much for us, not just because there is too much pain but also because we’re too selfish. Brokenness is realizing that He is all we have.” (Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, 11)
Isaiah states it well:
“Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6:5 KJV).
It is important to remember that brokenness is therefore not a state of circumstance or even an attitude of heart. The realization and life of Brokenness is a gift that can only be granted by God. Yet as with other gifts we may pursue them. In leadership terms we usually think progress, effectiveness and efficiency as primary pursuits. These grant control while also masking the desperate illusion we perpetrate. The illusion is not just masking our powerlessness, but our fundamental identity as broken creatures. This is why power is said to corrupt.
The great spiritual formation writer Dallas Willard helps us understand the root of the issue:
It is common today to hear Christians talk of their “brokenness.” But when you listen closely, you may discover that they are talking about their wounds, the things they have suffered, not about the evil that is in them. Few today have discovered that they have been disastrously wrong and that they cannot change or escape the consequences of it on their own….Yet without this realization of our utter ruin and without the genuine re-visioning and redirecting of our lives, which that bitter realization gives rise to, no clear path to inner transformation can be found. It is psychologically and spiritually impossible. We will steadfastly remain on the throne of our universe. (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, 60)
Humility then is not an accomplishment but a life lived in the acknowledgement of brokenness. It is a dethroning of ourselves and a pulling back of the curtain to finally see the true nature of ourselves.
As with most disciplines and gifts, it would seem likely that we can exercise a brokenness that puts us on the path to humility. I hope our missions and service this summer begins with and lead us to brokenness.
Questions to ponder:
If we are capable of bringing ruin to ourselves through service, how might training and preparation be far more important that what happens on the field?
How could a mission or service project team prepare for service that brings brokenness instead of pride?