The public school offers arguably the greatest mission field in America. In most places today, getting on a campus during school hours is a bit more difficult than in years past. Here are some basic challenges to getting out of the church office onto the campus:
1. The institutionalization of the church
The first challenge that we face is the institutionalization of the church. The church belongs to God, and God grows His church. In an institutional church, the lead pastor may often be seen as the CEO, the budget and finance committee as the CFO collectively, and all the other pastors and staff as numerous general managers. Ministry becomes lost in the maintaining of the status quo. While there are management skills that must take place within a church, the primary goal of each staff member should be to make Jesus famous through the outpouring of their lives into the church for the glory of God. The path of least resistance in student ministry is to do everything in the institution rather than to advance a gospel movement. Remember the Alamo? It started as a mission, became a battlefield, and is now a museum. That is also the story of institutional churches that lose a passion for gospel advance.
2. Laziness and Comfort
The second challenge to a potentially thriving student ministry and the goal of getting out is laziness and comfort we feel in our job. We put these two things together because when we become comfortable, our comfort can very quickly turn into laziness. Comfort comes from a myriad of factors. The people could make you comfortable by consistently telling you how great of a job you’re doing, even though you don’t feel that you’ve done much. Heed some of these comments, as they will lift you up when you’re having a dark day in ministry, but don’t listen to these comments alone. Have people in your life who ask you what your daily goals, weekly goals, and long-term goals are. They will push you because they want to see you grow. When laziness subsides, getting out into the community begins.
One final challenge that student pastors face as they work to get out into the community to build up gospel-centered student ministries is fear. When we already have a decent group and folks are content with us maintaining the status quo, why should we take the risk of meeting with principals and trying to minister on the school campus? Sometimes we honestly are just more comfortable around churched students than lost youth in our community. What do we have to fear? We have the sovereign God Who has ordained us and called us to lead His people, namely students. We are to gather students with the goal to build up the church by the addition of students and their families. It’s easy to worry about what a school official might say if we show up on their campus. As long as you follow the rules on campus, you have nothing to fear.
I (Josh) went on campus at a high school in Georgia. At the time, I was an intern at a church in the Atlanta area. I always thought that going on campus was something student pastors should be doing, i.e., a great idea, but I didn’t know where to start. Finally, someone pushed me to go on campus. There I stood in the front office, a box of donuts in hand, smiling and waiting to talk to someone. The receptionist looked at me and asked what at the moment was a very hard question: “Can I help you?” I had no idea what to say. I introduced myself sheepishly and gave her the donuts, stating that they were for the office staff. She smiled, said thank you and immediately started helping the next person in line. I stood there looking around for fifteen minutes and left, a moment of awkwardness I will never forget. Today, I’m serving a church in the Raleigh-Durham area and have developed a relationship at several schools. It’s not where you start, it’s what you learn as you get onto campuses.
When we get out into the community, awkward moments will happen. But this is not the time to give up; it is the time to resolve to do whatever it takes to establish a ministry to the campus. Remain faithful and willing to dive into the lives of students surrounding your church. Hold on tight as we continue to understand how to get out effectively in order to advance the Kingdom of God through the lives of teenagers.
Note: Adapted from the book Get Out: Student Ministry in the Real World by Alvin and Josh Reid. Header image provided through creative commons by Eric Allix Rogers (cc-by-nc-sa-2.0).