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Posts Tagged ‘church leadership’

Study GroupWhen I was a college minister, some people thought I was a youth minister. I found that strange, as did my coworker who led our church’s youth ministry. Despite assumptions to the contrary, high school students and college students have different experiences and needs. Youth ministry and college ministry share some similarities but are clearly different ministries.

The differences, however, don’t need to keep the groups apart. Combining high school and college groups is helpful. The groups can join for Bible classes and other activities, including opportunities to serve other groups of the church and service events in the neighboring community.

Such intergroup interaction has many blessings. Let me mention four.

Blessing 1: Intergenerational ministry is biblical and helpful.

The church has been intergenerational for a long time, and intergenerational ministry helps spiritual development and learning (Allen and Ross, Intergenerational Christian Formation.) This intergenerational aspect of faith communities existed long before the birth of Jesus (Deuteronomy 6; Psalm 145:4) and continued into the first-century church, as indicated by Paul’s words about different age groups (1 Timothy 5:1-3). For more on this, see Kara Jenkins’ article, “Biblical Support for Intergenerational Ministry.”

Blessing 2: Age-specific ministries need to be integrated parts of the church.

Providing opportunities for groups to interact helps this integration. While there are reasons to have different classes and activities for different age groups, combining groups for Bible study, service events, and other times of interaction can build understanding, appreciation, and relationships between generations.┬áKeeping age-specific groups always isolated from each other hinders that relational integration. If the church is to be the body of Christ in which each member plays an important and valued role (1 Corinthians 12), the diverse members need to know and influence each other. (To read about the difference between an intergenerational church and a church with intergenerational programs, see Kara Jenkins’ article, “Intergenerational Ministry in the Church.”)

Blessing 3: Friendships with college students can help high school graduates transition.

These relationships can help students be connected and have a place to belong in the church after high school graduation. Teenagers who graduate from high school without relational connections to the next age group of the church are likely to perceive that the church no longer has a place for them. Before high school graduates get to that point, they need to know that the church has room for their gifts and has a desire to continue helping them learn and grow.

Blessing 4: College students need to serve.

Teaching or assisting in intergroup events can offer valuable ministry opportunities for older students to help younger ones. College students are young adults who need to be nurtured, and they need to learn to equip younger friends for faith and ministry. College students in the church are learning and growing, and they benefit from opportunities to share their knowledge and experience.

Allen and Ross - Intergenerational Christian FormationDespite the blessings of bringing high school students and college students together, some people might have fears about mixing the groups. Here I present two possible fears and respond to each.

Fear 1: High school and college students are at different levels of maturity (knowledge, thinking, experiences).

This is a positive aspect of the whole church. As mentioned above, the church is the body of Christ. In that body, all parts are valuable. When we look at the church as a whole, we see members at various levels of maturity. That diversity does not need to be a curse; it can and should be a blessing. We learn from each other.

Also, age stages are fluid. Every group has members at different levels of spiritual, intellectual, and social development. Stereotyping a group of students as being at one maturity level is not helpful. Some high school students have maturity far beyond what we might expect in people of their age, and some people in their 80s are spiritual infants. When it comes to spiritual maturity, there are no accurate age group stereotypes.

Fear 2: High school students aren’t ready for the intellectual and spiritual challenges which college students experience.

With guidance, college students can help high school students with high school experiences. College students have been high school students, and sojourners can benefit from guides who have traveled longer in the right direction. Although we might not want to throw college-age new Christians into teaching roles in a high school Bible class, college students who have intentionally grown through study, service, and mentoring can share what they’ve learned.

Also, high school students need to be prepared for college experiences. When they become college students, they need to already have an idea of some of the challenges they’re about to face. We don’t need to hide those challenges from high school students. They need to be ready. Let’s not protect them from what’s next. Instead, let’s provide opportunities for them to discover what’s next and to do so in contexts of Christian friendship.

In the words of youth minister JD Morris, “both high school and college students need to be called to a much higher standard for spirituality, maturity, and responsibility than what our society is calling them. Kids today are growing up much slower because we are not just allowing, but expecting them to grow up much slower.”

Keeping people in classes and other activities catered to their levels can contribute to the “dumbing down” of the church. When we all walk together in Christ, supporting and strengthening each other on the way, God empowers us to grow beyond whatever ageist expectations our society might place on us.

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Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

This week I learned about goal setting from Dr. Ed Gray, Professor of Counseling at Harding School of Theology. His lecture used a “MAPS” model to teach that goals should be measurable, attainable, positive, and specific. The whole time I was thinking, “This can apply to church leadership!”

Leaders in each church need to ask, “What has God gifted this specific congregation to do in this specific community? Where can this church’s resources, skills, and passions meet the opportunities in the community?” Exploring those questions can result in goals that are measurable, attainable, positive, and specific.

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Measurable

Churches can struggle to set measurable goals. We don’t want to force the Holy Spirit into any box of our own understandings and ambitions, nor do we want to become so numbers-focused that we measure success by buildings, budgets, or baptisms. We can, however, set measurable goals. They might include increasing church members’ involvement in small groups, better integrating the various components of the church’s education ministry, or equipping more Christians to serve in the surrounding community. Even if we never establish numerical expectations, we can look back after a few months to see if we’ve made progress.

Attainable

We need goals that are challenging yet attainable. Changing our city into a utopia might be a bit unattainable and lead us to discouragement and maybe even burnout. Partnering with a local school’s tutoring program might be more attainable. Implementing conflict management processes can be attainable. Equipping people for intergenerational relationships and missional service is attainable, as is offering teachings about prayer.

Positive

Church goals need to rise above “Don’t do ______.” Positive goals are about what we plan to do. Maybe we want to preach more from the Old Testament while not neglecting the New Testament. Maybe we want to become more holistic in our support of missionaries. We might want to plant a church. Maybe we want to build friendships with residents of a nearby apartment community.

Specific

Churches can benefit from general goals like “lead people to Jesus” or “bless the world.” But we need to complement general goals with specific ones. We need to ask, “Based on who we are and where we are, what specific ways might God want to use us here? Whom do we want to lead to Jesus? How do we plan to do that? What are specific ways that we can bless the community around us?”

Collaborative Leadership

Dr. Gray said, “When clients have clear goals, they make better progress.” This is true not just in counseling but also in church leadership.

For that progress to happen in a healthy way, leaders need patience and sensitivity. We need to avoid any temptation to barge into church decision-making and push our own agendas, no matter how right or important we think our own convictions are. Faithful church leadership requires intentional practice of the other-centeredness we find in Jesus. Effective leaders empower other people to join the process of setting goals. Instead of immediately taking action or quickly offering solutions, we need to guide people to determine church goals.

Only then can we practice the “body of Christ” approach to ministry that the Apostle Paul teaches (1 Corinthians 12).

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How can the church connect with young adults? Some leaders asked me that recently.

My observations and readings indicate that emerging adults look for authenticity, relationship, and experience. Of course some seek rational answers to bewildering questions.

Whatever people are looking for, the church needs to faithfully strategize, like the Israelite army does in Joshua 8. But our strategizing is not to defeat Ai; it’s to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation.

A living, thriving church always asks a few questions through prayer and teamwork:

  1. Who are we (not in general, but as a specific group of people in a specific location)?
  2. What are our resources (passions, skills, facilities, finances, personalities, and so forth)?
  3. Who is our neighborhood (the people outside the walls of the church building)?
  4. What might be the most faithful ways to live out the God Story in that community?

A church that stops asking these questions begins to die. Strategy is essential to survival.

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Distribution of responsibility. Organizations need it. Leaders practice it. God ordains it.

Recent research reveals a long-known trend: 20 percent of a church does the work.

What about the other 80 percent?

Christians of the 80 percent should read Numbers 3-4 and see the division of labor. The Bible later calls all Christians to serve as priests, and different people have different roles to play in God’s work.

What’s your role? Don’t know yet? Then figuring it out is your current responsibility and blessing. Pray about it. Consider your interests, skills, and experiences. Talk with a church leader. Serve.

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