Creating an Effective Missions Strategy for Student Ministry

Over the past few years I have spoken with students and young adults in regards to the effectiveness of missions.  What did they gain from their missions’ experience?  How have they grown spiritually?  In what ways were they impacted to show more compassion and humility on a daily basis?  The continual answer I have found breaks my heart.  Students and young adults are not getting a true missions experience, instead they are being sent on a glorified retreat that turns into a social hangout.

In my opinion today’s high school and college student does not need to be given another opportunity to hang out in a social club.  They need to face the facts of a lost and broken world.  They need to be hit with the truth of a hurting society that is in need of the love and compassion of Jesus.  One student who recently visited the country of Bolivia said it was simply a retreat.  We are organizing trips to build earthly relationships instead of focusing on growing the Kingdom of God.

So… what do we do?  Where do we go from here?  How do we impact today’s teenagers and young adults through a mission’s experience?  I believe first and foremost we must create a desire for missions in our own backyard.  Many of our students miss the needs staring them in the face.  They do not realize that they are coming in contact with homeless, widows, and orphaned children on a daily basis.

A couple of years ago I held a localized missions week for our students, where we set aside an intensive time of missions training.  We brought in several guest speakers involved in compassion and outreach ministries within our local area.  We also organized several groups of students each day that went out into the community and were involved in hands on missions work.  We connected with the homeless, the orphaned children, the elderly, at risk youth, and the widows.  Each student had their eyes opened to the need for missions and compassion ministries right in their own backyard.  It created an awareness and passion to carry out the love of Christ to the hurting around us.  We must constantly create this awareness through local missions trips, volunteer service, and student outreach teams.

As youth leaders, we must also show the importance of organized missions trips, with the emphasis on ‘organized.’  It is so easy to pack up our suitcases, load on the plane, and travel to a third world country.  I fear too often this is being done, and we are forgetting the importance and significance of the mission God has called us to.  We want to show our students a third world country to make them feel bad and completely humble themselves.  Instead of making my students feel bad, I would rather create urgency in them to act based upon how God has blessed them.  As the American church, God has blessed us with the capability to reach out to a hurting world in a gigantic way.  I desire to cause my students to feel blessed by what God has given them, and in turn feel privileged to share it with the entire world.

Missions’ trips must also be more than a time of social hangout.  It comes down to organization and intentionality.  What are you doing to create spiritual growth in each individual and in the entire group as a whole?  How are you impacting those around you for the cause of Christ?  Is your debrief time serious or just another time to laugh and goof around?  I am not downplaying the importance of down time and relaxation during a mission’s trip, instead I am pointing out the significance of spiritual growth and spiritual impact while on trip.

Whether it is Africa, Haiti, or our own backyard, we must not lose sight of sharing Christ’s love and the Gospel with those we come in contact with.  Organizing effective missions trips and experiences is key to creating a heart of compassion within our students and young adults.

I would love to hear what you are doing to create an effective missions strategy, specifically within the context of student ministry.

Upcoming Blog on Missional Involvement: Creating Missions Partners

Missional Servant Leadership

What does a missional student ministry look like?  As Christians, we must constantly seek ways to reach out to those around us, and accomplish the mission God has set before us. But do we truly understand what that means, or do we allow our own capabilities to block us from truly accomplishing God’s work?

According to Webster’s Dictionary a servant is “one who expresses submission, recognition, or debt to another.”  Servant Ministries defines a servant as an individual who “serves the purposes of God in the lives of individuals that he or she leads.”  Both of these definitions are very vague and do not give us a true glimpse at what it means to be a servant of God.  It must go much further than that.  I believe a true servant of God is an individual that puts aside his or her own needs, steps out of their comfort zones, and reaches for the needs of others with a loving and humble attitude.  It goes to the root of who we are and what we do on an everyday basis – in and through every word, action, and relationship!  It must extend past the four walls of our churches and into our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and our neighborhoods.

Deuteronomy 10:12-13 says, “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.”    Joshua 22:5 repeats this important thought, “to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.”  I pray our students see the vision of what God desires for His servants and begin impacting those around them for the cause of Christ!

When discussing what it means to live a missional life, there is no greater place to begin than with the life of Jesus Christ.  Matthew 20:26-28“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Christ went to the ultimate low to serve those He loved; even those he knew were going to betray him.

Following, the disciples’ argument in regards to who was the greatest individual (Mark 9:33-34), John gives a glimpse at one of Christ’s greatest acts of service.  I can picture it now – here were the twelve disciples walking down the road from Galilee to Capernaum, debating who was the greatest, the smartest, the best looking, the most intelligent, and who had the greatest future!  The focus was completely on them.  They showed no signs of humility, but instead were filled with pride and self-righteousness.  Jesus responds in Mark 9:35 and says, “If anyone wants to be the first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  The first step to becoming a Christ-like leader is to humble yourself and put the needs of those you come in contact with above your own!

Shortly after, in the Gospel of John, Jesus displays a heart of compassion once again.  The disciples had just finished a long walk.  The long, dusty, dirty conditions made it necessary to wash your feet during New Testament times.  Most house owners had servants who would wash your feet as you came in the door.  Although the disciples would have washed Jesus’ feet, they would never have turned and washed each other’s feet.  The time of foot washing was reserved for the lowliest of menial servants.  It was saved for the lowest of slaves.  It was the janitor that was responsible for cleaning the guys’ football locker room of the New Testament.  Nobody wanted to do it, and nobody looked forward to it.  Yet Jesus Christ stooped to the lowest of human responsibilities to show an example of great sacrificial love.

I would have been just as shocked if I were Peter, James, John, or one of the other 12 amigos.  In John 13:6-10 we see Peter basically ask Jesus why he, of all people, would stoop so low to wash their feet.  Just like you and I, Peter failed to see beyond the humble service itself.  He was focused on the individual who was doing the work, instead of the point Jesus was attempting to get across.

Why would Jesus do this?  Why would he stoop so low and wash the disciples’ feet?  Is he not the Messiah?  There are three things we can instill within our own student ministries out of this simple story.  First, Christ washed the disciples’ feet to give us an example of servant leadership.  As leaders and pastors, we must realize that in order to be a true leader, one must display a servant’s heart.  I believe today’s students are attracted to those who are real and authentic.  We must be willing to break, admit our sin, and give a Christ-like example of true humility.  Also, our title or level of importance should never get in the way of our ability to serve.  Although Christ was Lord and Teacher, we continually saw him serving those with whom he came in contact.  If we want our students to realize it takes a servant’s heart to be a true leader, we must set the bar high within our own lives.

Second, Jesus provides one of the greatest examples of humility through this story.  John 13:15 must be our example and pattern for ministry.  Jesus’ purpose through this was to establish the model of loving humbly.  There is a difference in loving those around us because we have to and in loving them humbly.  Despite what Christ knew about His disciples, he continued loving them.  It was a true sacrificial love.  Too often, we love those we can stand and those we get along with.  We love the students who show compassion and who show great leadership skills, but do we love the ones that cause nothing but problems?  Do we love the guy and girl that we catch in the corner making out while on a missions trip?  Do we love the parents who continually pester us with emails and phone calls because they feel they have not been notified as to what the next even is?  Do we love the students who are only there on Wednesday night because they are trying to hook up with the hottie sitting across the room?  It does not matter what we know or what we don’t know about those within our ministry.  Christ has given us the perfect example of loving humbly, no matter the circumstance or situation.

Finally, John 13:17 gives us a pathway to blessing.  Joy is always tied to obedience to God’s word.

As we read on, Christ eventually went to the ultimate human low and gave his life for you and me.  He displayed more love than any of us could ever imagine.  It was true sacrificial love!  What are you willing to sacrifice?  What will your students sacrifice to reach live missional lives?  We must continually reach beyond our own capability and serve God with a loving and humble attitude.  That may mean getting your hands and feet dirty doing some yard work.  It may mean rounding up a group of students and serving burritos to the homeless.  It may even mean creating a relationship with your local nursing home to serve wherever the need may be!  Whatever God calls you and your ministry to, pick up the phone, and, with a loving and humble attitude answer,  “Here I am, send me!”

Upcoming Blog: Effective Missions Strategy for Student Ministry

Why Christ Centered Student Ministry?

God has recently been calling me to step outside of my comfort zone and to put my words, thoughts, and skills to use beyond my everyday responsibilities.  I have clearly been called to serve God within the context of student ministry, but I often wonder what that looks like on a day-to-day basis.  There are so many ways to do student ministry.  All you have to do is google ‘philosophy of student ministry’ and you will experience the abundance of wisdom and knowledge there is on the topic.  Many youth pastors step into ministry thinking they know exactly what needs to happen to grow a healthy student ministry.  Whether it be an attractional, a missional, a video-game and pizza, a small group, or relational approach to youth ministry, there is one thing we can never miss – the truth, message, and love of Jesus Christ!

My passion lies in empowering students to experience Jesus through discipleship, leadership, and missional involvement.  But again, I constantly ask myself – ‘What does that actually look like?’  My desire is to share my experiences, thoughts, and yes, even opinions, in regards to Christ Centered Student Ministry.  I do not have all of the answers nor am I perfectly carrying out every aspect of ministry, but through God’s grace I am constantly allowing Him to working in and through me.

So what does all of this mean?  My prayer is to be there to encourage, assist, and develop community amongst youth pastors and leaders from all walks of life – in other words the old vets and the young guys who are actively involved in student ministry!  If there is anything on your mind in regards to life in youth ministry that you would like to share, write about, or even discuss further in conversation feel free to let me know.

Over the next few days I will introduce more of who I am and also go into depth on the topics of discipleship within student ministry, leadership development, and missional involvement.  I am excited to see what God has in store and how He desires to use Christ Centered Student Ministry!  Take a few seconds to follow, and let me know your initial feedback!