Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jasper Speaks:

Top Five Things to Help Build Student Ministry Unity

A huge struggle in student ministry is unity. How do we take a group who
seem to be totally different from one another and make them a unified
Christian front? How do we foster a caring community that has residents
who are all on the same page and know and care for one another? I have
been in student ministry nearly two decades and I have found some
fundamental things to be true when thinking of student ministry unity.

5. Unity comes when there is a leader who is welcoming and loving of all students.

It is important that the primary leader of the student ministry
do all he or she can to reach out to all students in the group.
As leaders of students, it can be very difficult not to spend most of our time
with the outgoing, charismatic leaders and/or the students who are
drawn to us. Still, if unity is going to be achieved, the leader has to
set the tone. If we are going to preach love and tell students to welcome
everyone, we have to be the best example of that. Greet new students.
We have to involve the fringe kids. We need to celebrate the lesser known
kids in our groups and get to know who they are and their abilities. For unity
to begin, the example of how to show love and find unity has to be us.

4. Unity comes when we encourage student leaders to embrace all students in our ministry.

There is a scene in the movie NEVER BEEN KISSED when I
think that one of the truest statements about teenagers ever
said on film is made. David Arquette says to "Josie Grossy" Drew
Barrymore that all it takes is for one person to think you are cool
and you are in. I have seen that time and time again play out in
student ministry. It only takes one person. I think because we are
naturally drawn to the outgoing, charismatic leader type students (and
often them to us) we need to take advantage of the relationships we have
that come easy. We need to encourage those students to do what
we are doing in our attempts to build unity. We need to encourage
(and sometimes prod) them to be a warm, welcoming force in the group.
Encourage these students to talk with new or fringe students. Challenge
them to sit with someone who is not their close friend in student meetings.
Challenge them to learn something new about a different person every week.
It is a lofty goal but I am all about raising the bar and watching students
consistently fly above it. Students like it when an adult leader makes them
feel known but they love it when that comes from their peers.

3. Unity comes when we offer a strong identity of our student ministry that helps
students embrace a team attitude.

In most student ministries, we have students coming from so many
different places. We have public school
students (and many times
several different public schools are represented). We have private
school students. We also have homeschool students. Often this
diversity only adds to the lack of unity in the group. Two years ago,
when we were praying the week before See You At The Pole, we
split our group of about 40 kids that night up by their educational
similarities. When we counted out of just forty students we had fourteen
different groups represented!

I would like to think that we are rare, but I am somewhat certain that
big numbers of various designations are becoming more of the norm.
So, in order to combat the lack of unity this may bring naturally, we
need to offer to students a place where they can come together and have
a common ground.

One of the best ways to make that happen is to have
a strong student ministry identity. Make students feel, as soon as they
walk in the door, that this is a place that knows who it is and why it exists.
Some people look down on naming your ministry but I think that a strong
name and and identity that is frequently referenced helps tear down the
walls of natural segregation in the group. My goal for our group is that when we
come together we are no longer students at Parkway North or Lafayette
High School but we are now, Get Real Student Ministries. We proudly display
our logo on everything from our welcome table to our projection screen and
every correspondence and t-shirt that we put out. Having a strong identity
helps students feel that they belong to something. That sense of belonging is
crucial to teens. Let's give them that within their student ministry.

2. Unity comes when we intentionally create a unity fostering atmosphere in our ministry.

Years ago I stopped letting students pick which van they ride in on trips.
Sure I get flack from time to time but as I personally assign each student
to a van before we go somewhere I can intentionally breed unity. I always
make sure that every person has someone they are comfortable with to ride
along with them but I also make sure that I break up cliques and disburse
them evenly throughout vehicles. Students may groan when they aren't
with their friends but I have found that there is nothing like a long van
ride to force students to get to know people they might not have the
opportunity to get acquainted with at a regular student group meeting.

Shared experiences are the crucial element in creating unity. You can have a
great identity and encourage people to reach out within the walls of your church
to begin the unity building process but until your students have things that
make shared memories, it is often superficial. Things like mission trips and camps
go along way in making shared memories. Inside jokes are created, dreams are
shared, guards are down and hearts are open in these types of environments.

In our ministry we do Monday Mystery Trips in the summer. We take the
students in vans to unknown destinations about three hours away. It is
a fun filled time but the underlying reason we do it is to offer time in vans
for students to talk to one another and a random shared experience at the end to
help establish memories that move us toward unity. [This past summer
we went to Metropolis, Illinois --- the home of Superman and Santa Claus,
Indiana, Both completely random but both are some of the highlights
of the summer that students are still talking about]. Shared experiences breed
natural unity.

1. Unity comes when we cover it all in prayer.

This may seem cliched but it is the very foundation of unity building.
You can foster unity in your group but it is the Holy Spirit that breeds
that unity. You have to continually seek His guidance as you seek ways
to create a unified group. Also, in praying for unity, you are following the
example of Christ. In His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus takes
time to pray for the church. What is His petition to the Father? Make
them one. Unity. If Jesus thought it was important enough to pray for us
to obtain unity, then I think we should make it a priority in our prayer life as well.

Finally, I am not saying that I have all the answers to the unity issues that we
all face in student ministry. I do know however, that these things have
worked together to transform disjointed ministries before my eyes. I, too.
pray that all our ministries would be havens of unity in a world where unity
is hard to find.

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