These two areas seem to pop up time and time again in studies dealing with the college-and-beyond transition. And since these factors simply involve the church being the church, it is wise for us to emphasize these two things in the youth ministry of a local church.
I used to not be a big fan of W.V.U. coach Bob Huggins. I still have a hard time not calling him “Thuggins.” But I do like the lad now, and not just because he coaches for W.V.U. I can see that he does indeed care about his players. Whether it was that loving moment (though somewhat creepy as well) of him caressing his injured player in the Final Four floor, or the increased graduation rate, I don’t know. Perhaps its the more of the latter than the former.
When coaching at the University of Cincinati, he had a very low graduation rate. In fact I don’t think anyone had one lower than Huggins. That’s not to hard to believe, since I don’t think he graduated A player. Seriously.
But according to many college coaches, just have kids play basketball for the college is a win-win. The coaches win (literally) and make money, and the college kids play basketball and stay off the streets. Keeping the kids off the streets is better, “non-graduation emphasizing” coaches will reason.
I wonder if that’s really the case. Maybe it is. But in the end, you may keep them off the streets, but if you don’t equip them while in college, don’t many simply return to the proverbial streets?
Some folks take this approach with youth ministry. Keep the kids away from their “bad friends” and entertain them while in jr. high and high school. In other words, if they are entertained, they at least have somewhere to go; they are being kept off the streets.
But the problem is much the same with the college athlete who only knows basketball. He’ll simply return back to what he knows because he can’t play ball forever. With youth who have been entertained throughout their church and youth ministry experience, where will they go when they head off to college? Not the church. It just can’t keep up. It’s impossible to do so, not to mention draining when you try.
If you haven’t seen this article, that emphasizes discipleship over entertainment, check it out. It sums up a lot of what many, including myself, really envision.
If the goal is not simply to keep the kids off the streets, but to point them to Jesus and His Church NOW and LATER when they leave, the church has to 1.) Throw resources toward the children/youth and 2.) Expect much of them. I’m not talking about parents role, but focusing on the Church’s role now.
1.) Throw Resources. I don’t mean money. Money helps in that we can purchase material, go to retreats, etc….But the best resource a church can spend is adults who love Jesus. That’s the most important. College kids who walk with Jesus usually have several things in common: one is that they have a few godly adult relationships. In addition to parents, they have a few adult relationships which challenge and encourage them. Kathy Keller in her article about raising kids in the city had this to say…
I have often said that the best thing you can do for your teenage children is not to have them in a great big youth group (of other teens as clueless and confused as themselves), but to have lots of young adult, cool, ardently believing friends.
…..More seriously, the time came in the life of one of the boys when the club culture cast its allure, especially a fabled den of iniquity known as the Limelight. Begging to be allowed to go fell on deaf ears. Sneaking off to try to talk his way in resulted in being caught and grounded for decades. We were bemoaning this seemingly intractable desire to walk on the wild side to a 30-something friend. He was a talent agent who represented very well-known people, and my sons thought he was the coolest person they’d ever met. When the son in question walked up, Steve turned to him and said, “I hear you want to visit the Limelight. If you want to go, I’ll take you. I went there many times before I became a Christian, and I never want to go back. But if you want to see it for yourself, I’ll take you.” We never heard another word about it. Steve had been there, done that, and found Christ better. His words had a power that our lectures never could have.
Whether it’s formally teaching Sunday School, youth group, filling in as a sub (we always need them), or informally teaching (talking to them at church, having them into your homes, inviting them on an outing, going out for lunch), these resources get most bang for the buck. Most of us would rather throw money at a ministry than get involved and get our hands dirty. But God seldom uses more money to change the lives of our youth; he uses His people.
2.) Expecting much from them. Just as a good college coach expects his student athletes to do more than just be “off the streets,” the church has to expect more than just decent Sunday School/youth attendance. We have to find them “jobs” to do while they are already in jr high and high school. Perhaps no segment of the church is more self-absorbed, but that is partly OUR fault. We perpetuate that when we don’t give them opportunities to serve NOW, thinking they are too young to serve, lead, help organize, or even at times teach. Of course they will think the world revolves around them when we don’t give them opportunities to bless others. And the more plugged into serving NOW, the more integral church involvement will be THEN when they leave. If serving the church is part of their normal Christian lives, then church becomes not something that they go to (or sleep in) once a week, it is part of who they are. Why would they want to miss corporate worship when it has become more than simply a “spiritual activity?”
In addition to opportunities IN the church, we need to expect them to be involved in the mission OUTSIDE the church.