Last night I met with a group of my high school students at the local Panera Bread to hang-out, talk, and…. listen.
If you are like me, it’s so easy to get bogged down with planning, message writing, and meetings. It’s easy to become task driven and focus less on just ‘being’ with students. Last night I was truly blessed to be around a group of students who are excited about God, are excited to see their friends being reached, and excited about growing deeper in their faith. Last night was a time to listen to their hearts, their ideas and their hopes. Here’s what was impressed upon my heart from our time together…
1) We Discover the Real Issues Students Face:
Students foundational adolescent issues tend to not change too much in that they still desire Identity, Autonomy and Affinity. (Marko in Youth Ministry 3.0). However, when as, Chap Clark puts it, we “sit on the steps” that lead up to student culture, we get great insights to students current issues and needs. Last night was one of those nights for me as I discovered so many things that I was unaware of or had not considered. As I look forward with my teaching, planning and implementation, I am able to focus my energies to support students in areas that they truly need .
2) We move from Colonialism to being a Missionary:
In his book Youth Ministry 3.0, Mark Oestreicher talks about the importance of seeing ourselves as a missionary. In other words, seeing ourselves as someone who is foreign to a culture and comes in and listens to the locals and understands them first. Coming from England, I am all too aware of British colonialism in the world where the Brits went in to foreign lands and insisted that the locals follow the British customs and cultural nuances. What happened? The Brits got kicked out! Now, I hope you and I don’t get kicked out of our churches or ministries, but it’s important to consider if we are only imparting our own set of agendas and ideas on students. Are we ‘colonizing’ or being a missionary to these students.
Now bear with me for a minute as I say this. I am aware that there are many things that students do not yet see in their lives that are imperative to know and live by. I am aware that students ‘felt needs’ are not always what they really do need… However, they are less likely to listen to us unless they know that we have taken time to listen to them first…
3) We give Ownership to Students:
This was huge for me last night. As I sat and listened to students talk about what they are seeing in our ministry and what they are excited about, they were owning the ministry with their words and their plans for the future. As they talked, they got lit up with ideas and dreams – they began to take ownership. When students can put the ministry vision into their own words, it is better that a well-crafted vision statement in any student ministry.
4) We Hear Honesty
“Phil, you give great messages, but when one of us can back up what you are saying and can be involved in your message, it has a greater impact”. That was my takeaway last night, among other things. It can be hard to hear that kind of stuff can’t it? But, when we listen long enough, students can feel like they can communicate their true thoughts with you. Ultimately, it will lead to creating a better and more effective ministry. My ego might take a hit, but who is more important here?
5) We Send the most Important Message:
I think the most important factor for me was that they heard the most important message last night. “I care about you guys. You are important and you can make a huge difference”. I didn’t say it with words, I communicated it through listening…In coming weeks, when you and I stand in front of students with a message or study for them, I am convinced they will hear better when they know that we care deeply and have their best interests at heart.
So this next few weeks, I encourage you to hang out, have fun…. and listen.