Missional Student Ministry According to Jesus

UP-IN-OUT-logoRunning from event-to-event, weekend-to-weekend can be extremely draining! Many pastors and ministry leaders face burnout and exhaustion because of the lack of vision and direction. We live lives and carry on with ministry out of what ‘looks good’ instead of what God truly desires of us. What would it look like for you to do as Jesus did and talk as Jesus talked – to live your life as He lived and to lead your ministry as He led?

3DM focuses on the Up, In, and Out lifestyle of Jesus. In other words, He prioritized His relationship with the Father, focused on creating a culture of discipleship within those closest to Him, and carried out a life of outreach and mission beyond His social comfort zone. What would it look like for us to do this within the context of our ministries?

God has been challenging me over the past few weeks to truly abide in His presence. It is not that I was completely missing the mark of His calling, but there are definitely areas that need pruning. I need the Father’s direct sunlight, while allowing the shade and comfort of the Holy Spirit to infiltrate my entire life.

Our relationship with the Father places focus on the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ In other words, we are able to find true purpose and meaning to our lives when we abide in His love. When we experience authentic spiritual growth, fruit will appear that we did not even think was possible.

As we look up and answer God’s calling on our lives, we must not miss the community He has placed around us. Many of the students and young adults I work with want relationships, but they don’t want commitment and accountability. In other words, they want the fun, but not the challenge; they want the fruit, but they don’t want to experience the pruning process.

God puts specific people in our lives to hold us accountable. He also places a responsibility on our shoulders to establish a culture of discipleship within our families and ministries. Are you being used by God to see lives transformed within your sphere of influence? When it comes to the impact we can have, it is not always about the large numbers. Typically, we will have far greater impact on fewer people than on large crowds. We must start small as we dream big!

As we grow closer to the Father and create a discipling culture, we will not miss the opportunity to share Christ with the masses! We will focus on the lost, spend time developing a vision for outreach, and live as the hands and feet of Jesus. We will see people as Jesus sees them, instead of how our ignorant human flesh sees them. We will be quicker to forgive and slower to lash out in anger.

Our mission must begin with a growing relationship with the Father, where we truly find ourselves abiding in His presence. As we do this, a culture of discipleship will be created, and we will ultimately live out as His hands and feet to a broken world!

One of the things that I have been specifically wrestling with is how this lays out into the vision of student ministry. I am in the process of a major project – evaluating all aspects of student ministry directly from the perspective of missional living.

I have narrowed it down to three basic questions that I am hoping to lay out over the next few weeks and months in book form.

  1. What does it look like to authentically lead students into the presence of the Father?
  2. What must happen within the four walls of our ministry in order to create a successful culture of discipleship?
  3. How can we see a true revolution take place within our communities, schools, and homes?

I would love to hear any and all feedback in regards to how you see this happening, specifically in the context of Student Ministry!

Attraction vs. Discipleship: What are we Feeding our Students? (Part 1)

disciplemakingmissionEverybody is doing it. Just this one time won’t hurt. Relationships solve every problem. You are #1. Popularity and power are keys to success. Music is life. Image is everything. But he loves me. We are attracted to each other in every way possible!

In a culture that is full of lies and falsities, many of our students are missing the mark of authentic discipleship! Much of our time in youth ministry is spent attracting students, yet we often find ourselves using the same tactics as SnapChat, Nike, Apple, Abercrombie, and Starbucks. The image of our ministry is everything! We want the latest and greatest of everything! We want to be in the spotlight of our schools. We want leaders to thank us and show their appreciation for us. We want our senior pastors to acknowledge our works and abilities. We want parents to see their kids are having fun and staying safe when they are with us. We want to fit in with the ‘cool kids!’ We want to be edgy with our messages and ways of communication. We want students to think we are hip before they mention our love for Jesus.

What are we feeding our students? What do they take away from their time in our ministries? What are we communicating? How are we attracting new students and connecting them into a journey with Christ?

I challenge every ministry leader, every youth pastor, every volunteer, and every parent to see their responsibility of making disciples before they ever think about creating cool ministries full of popular students! We often become disillusioned in our quest for discipleship. We trick ourselves into believing that if we attract the right students we will grow an awesome ministry. While that can be true based on numbers it does not always equate into a culture of discipleship. Here are six warning signs that can appear within a Culture of Attraction versus six key focuses we must strive towards in order to develop a Culture of Discipleship.

1. Emotional Rollercoaster vs. Foundation in Christ – Our desire is often to see our students walk away ‘feeling’ great about themselves. Over the course of a service we take our students on an emotional roller coaster, inviting them to cry, laugh, and feel appreciated. Our goal is to get them to emotionally connect to our worship leader, our speakers, and our leaders. We want them to ‘feel’ Christ, not experience Christ! In the words of Mark Lowry, ‘There are some mornings when I wake up before the sun comes up that I do not feel saved.’ Christianity cannot be based on emotions. James says we must have joy during the most difficult times! It doesn’t matter what our lives look like; we must be firmly planted in our relationship with Christ. Please don’t hear me wrong – emotions are great! Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there isa time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

We need to stir the passions, desires, and emotions of our students as we direct them towards a foundation in Christ. Jesus was emotional and showed compassion on many, but His personal foundation was built on a relationship with the Father! He was rooted in God, not His own personal emotions. He desired to passionately live out the Father’s calling. Are we drawing our students toward us emotionally or into a relationship with Christ that is not wavering on faulty ground?

2. Events & Programs vs. Relationships & Community – How much time do you spend on event planning and programming? Do you spend just as much time in relationships and community? Who are you discipling and who is discipling you?

It is easy to fill a calendar with summer trips, retreats, Disciple Now weekends, small group programming, services, outreach events, pizza parties, middle school ice cream socials, cardboard crazes, Christian concerts, trips to local theme parks, and… well… you get the point. I have felt at times like my level of success is measured by how many incredible events I can do. What parties am I throwing? How many kids were there? What crazy, disgusting games did we do? Who ate the chocolate out of the diaper? Who ate the blended McDonald’s happy meal? Which student won the iPad?

What if we were to narrow our ministries down to 4 major events over the course of the year – summer trip, Disciple Now weekend, fall retreat, and a Back 2 School event? It would give us the ability to pour into the lives of our leaders, families, and students on a personal level. We would see students experience community that would lead to a culture of discipleship! Jesus didn’t throw parties. He built relationships. He didn’t go from event to event. He went from person to person doing the work of the Father!

3. Elevating Self vs. Elevating God’s Voice – Unfortunately, many youth pastors use their platform as a way to promote themselves. Students can easily pick up on this, and it can become detrimental to the culture of our ministries. I have also seen youth pastors promote the individual instead of promoting a relationship with Christ. In other words, they encourage their students to just ‘do what’s best’ instead of teaching to live out God’s Word. I understand there must be grace and love, but without truth you do not get authenticity. The combination of grace, truth, and love creates a culture of discipleship.

What are you doing to elevate God’s voice over selfish desires? Do you even teach that God is clearly speaking to each and every person on the face of the planet? Do your students walk away knowing how to hear God’s voice? Once we realize God is speaking to us individually, we must pause to reflect on those Kairos moments. We are then faced with the choice to move on and ignore God – elevating our own selfish desires – or to obey God’s voice as we elevate our love for Him! Hearing and obeying God’s voice is a simple process that we must be instilling in the hearts and minds of our students!

In tomorrow’s blog, I will take a look at these last three points of difference between a culture of attraction and a culture of discipleship…

4. Reliance on Yourself vs. Reliance on God

5. Large Group vs. The Whole Person

6. Living for the Moment vs. Living on Mission

The Harvest: Youth Ministry With a Purpose

the harvestWhat is the point of youth group? Is the purpose to walk away feeling great about who you are, to experience an emotional boost for the rest of the week, or to have fun and enjoy some awesome music? What if you were told that the purpose to your life has nothing to do with you? It is not about your wants, your needs, your desires, and your priorities! It is solely about what God wants and desires of you!

While I believe many of these things are important and can happen, it cannot be our main priority! It cannot drive us to do what we do. We must be driven by a desire to see students draw closer to Christ! God may need to pick us up, shake the craziness out of us, and cause us to see Him for who He truly is!

Jeremiah 29:11-14 – 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

So often we stop at verse 11, and we miss that true purpose comes out of us calling on the name of God and fully relying on our relationship with Him! Our purpose in ministry must be all about Jesus! It is not about striving to be perfect or filling ourselves with tons of knowledge so that we have all of the answers. Instead, it is about us forming every part of who we are to fit exactly what Christ desires of us.

Sometimes that means we have to say no. Sometimes that means we have to understand we are going to mess up. Sometimes that means we are not going to have all of the answers. And sometimes that means our lives are going to seem pretty messed up!

So often we celebrate numbers and become focused on fun, entertainment, food, environment, atmosphere, and so much more. Although these are not bad things, they can cause us to lose sight of who Jesus is! We stop asking Him what He wants us to do! We stop relying on the Holy Spirit to direct our messages and conversations. We become consumed with details and schedules that we miss the opportunities right in front of us! We rely on our own strength, our own power, and place much of the win on our shoulders, instead of dropping it at the feet of Jesus. We can talk a good talk while our heart gets eaten alive.

Even in the midst of success, we have the tendency to take our eyes off of what God has for us. How much of your focus has actually been on hearing from Him and living out what He is calling us to do? We can fall into the trap of leading from a selfish vision – focused on growing a ministry that is fun, exciting, and full of students! Don’t get me wrong, those are good things, but is Jesus visible in and through the success of our ministry?

Matthew 9:35-38 –35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

We must pray students experience the awesomeness of a relationship with Jesus, but we cannot water down the Gospel in fear some may be offended! What if your youth ministry was attractional based on God’s Word and not because of an emotional feeling everybody can walk away with? What if your students were to truly be a part of something greater than they could ever imagine? What would it look like for each one of your leaders, parents, and students to begin living out community and discipleship at the level Jesus desires?

Are we encouraging our students to grow in a deeper relationship with Christ? Are we asking our students the tough questions of accountability? It’s good for us to be there to help our students through difficult circumstances with family, friends, and life itself – but what they need is a large dose of Jesus! Our students don’t need another friend, they don’t need another motivational charge – they need Jesus!

We cannot water down the Gospel! Our focus and must be to share the truth of God’s Word with everybody we come in contact with! Our desire is to see students radically changed based on the reality of a relationship with Christ, not based on anything we could do or say! We cannot desire create a cool crowd, just to put butts in seats. Our desire must be to see lives changed because of the truth and reality of the cross!