Highways connect people to where they want to go.
But imagine a highway with no on-ramps.
Churches can unconsciously make mistakes that prevent children and youth from connecting to opportunities. Here are three of the most common:
1. Substituting Presence for Preparation
Picture a high school football coach. He’s got a locker room full of uniforms, pads, and helmets. He’s got a weight room loaded with equipment. He’s got a great group of kids. How does the coach prepare for game day?
It would be ridiculous if he decided the only training his team needed was to watch a few highlight reels, do some light work outs, and send them off with a spirited pep talk.
Coaches don’t do that. At least, the good ones don’t.
A coach’s job is about preparation, not just presence.
Good coaches constantly watch and assess their players. When they see particular weaknesses, they apply specific training. When they notice strengths, they look for ways to develop those strengths for the betterment of the team.
Paul used this kind of imagery when talking about Christian development: “Do you not know in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run so that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Like a good coach, Paul makes the point living the Christian life takes preparation.
The children and youth you serve prepare to eventually go out into the world. They learn skills and disciplines that will make them a success wherever God calls them. The question is, “Are you a good coach?” You only have them for a limited amount of time before “real life” sets in.
The goal of your ministry cannot be mere presence. It must be about preparation.
2. Underestimating your Role as a Leader
When you put a jigsaw puzzle together, you understand how the completed puzzle is supposed to look based on the picture on the front of the box. You’re just not sure how it fits together. When you start, you select one individual piece, hold it up to the picture on the box, and place it where you think it should go on the table. Soon, more and more pieces find their place, and the process gets easier until the puzzle is finally finished.
In the same way, the lives of children and youth are like a box full of puzzle pieces, a jumble of experiences, relationships, joys, and wounds that (somehow) are supposed to fit together and make sense. Your task is to help them put the disparate and confusing pieces together.
By helping them work through their gifts, you bring clarity out of confusion.
You help them see how they fit into the big picture of God’s kingdom.
3. Succumbing to Ministry Myopia
One common mistake you can make when connecting students to opportunities is ministry myopia, when churches only seek out opportunities they’re familiar with.
The world is changing in profound ways. As a leader, you can show your students how they can impact their world. Like the men of Isaachar “who had an understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32), you can give your children and students an edge by positioning yourself as a fellow student of culture.
To cure ministry myopia, broaden your perspective. Here are a few quick tips for broadening your perspective:
- Talk with leaders in other churches, learning from their successes and mistakes. What have they done to connect their children and students to God’s global plan? What worked well? What hasn’t worked well?
- Keep a record of organizations you find compelling.
- Research unfamiliar opportunities ‒ online, over the phone, or (even better) in person.
- Personally engage in new missions opportunities with an eye for how this might connect with those you serve.
Have you led students in interesting opportunities?
Share a few ideas below.