Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Get Off the Fence: Why Students Need You Now

I started volunteering in high school ministry because of the leaders I didn't have. As a high school student, I couldn't help but notice the lack of interest in the youth group, particularly from the older generation. I remember feeling like people were scared of us, and wishing that more people cared. As a senior, I started helping to plan and run events, and when our youth pastor left, it cemented the realization that students desperately need leaders to show up consistently.

Over the past decade, I've made it a goal not just to be a volunteer leader, but to encourage others to volunteer or continue volunteering. It's not without its challenges, but working in student ministry is always, always worth it. If you're on the fence about it, here are three key components to consider.

Show students that they matter

One of the biggest things volunteer leaders can do every week is often the simplest: just show up. Setting aside time from your life and schedule, arriving consistently and on time, and being present communicates something. It shows students that they are important, valuable, and that they matter. It shows that you are willing to invest the precious resource of your time into their lives.

No, you won't always hear people saying thank you, but over time, you will build something meaningful with your students. You will build reliability, and will show that you care. You will provide stability, and show that you are available, whenever your students need you.

These students, the next generation, they're not going to become the church once they reach adulthood. They are the church now. Students need to know that they are important co-laborers in the work that God is doing, and they need to know that they have a place. Consistent leadership helps reinforce their importance and their value.

Teach the truth

Students learn from a multitude of channels--their school, their parents, their friends, social media, and countless external sources. These channels can reinforce and teach the truth, or they can spin a tangled web of lies that can be overwhelming and impossible to navigate alone. Without a foundation of biblical truth, how can we expect students to determine what is true and what is not?

As a volunteer leader, you have an enormous opportunity and responsibility to guide students to the truth. And unfortunately, you can't always rely on other channels. Sometimes youth group is the only place where students will hear the truth about God, humanity, and our desperate need for Jesus. And sometimes, you may be the only person speaking truth into their life. It may seem daunting, but when faced with the reality of life apart from God, the work is well worth it.

Create a legacy

As members of the church, we walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. The decisions and actions of older generations will always affect those who follow. As leaders within the church today, now is our time to decide what we will leave behind.

Will our season of church leadership be celebrated or mourned? Will we be known for how we led with godliness and truth, or for how we kept silent? Will we be remembered for uplifting the youth of our congregations, or will we be responsible for the loss of an entire generation within the church? It's our decision to make, but each of us will leave behind a legacy.

As a volunteer leader and member of the church body, you are actively creating a legacy for your students and the generations that follow. This is your opportunity to contribute to the history of the church, to build up the body, and to set an example for the students you lead.

Consider this your invitation to get off the fence, care for students, teach biblical truth, and create a lasting legacy.

Monday, June 5, 2017

I'll Always Thank God for Iowa

Life is changing once again, in beautiful, painful, unignorable ways. I've come to learn that is how God works--He works in unexpected ways, in ways I often don't like, to move me to places I need to be. I think He does this because He knows I won't move on my own. Not without the slamming of doors, not without me kicking and screaming. Not until I realize that this is the only way.

God has taken me many places; I call it the nomad life. I don't think it's a life I would've chosen on my own, but the more I live it, the more thankful I am for it. It has brought me to more places and people than I ever would've known possible. It catches me off-guard at times, when I realize how spectacular it is to be in a place I never knew existed, colliding with the lives of people who never knew I existed.

The beauty of the nomad life exists in its painfulness--it is a kind of death that brings a new life. Something must end for something new to begin. I must leave behind people and places I have come to love in order to discover what awaits. As my time in Iowa ends, I can't help but reflect on this piece of my journey.

I tried everything not to live in Iowa. My family moved there, to Clinton, while I was in college. My first experiences of the state were on short visits and holiday breaks. After college, I tried to stay in Chicago, but cost of living quickly closed that door. Less than a year later, I tried to escape to Colorado and an idealized relationship. A year and a half later, dead ends, poor choices, and job loss left me with one alternative: return to Iowa.

Iowa became the place I called home for the next six years. It was undoubtedly a struggle at times, trying to find my place in a culture I couldn't relate to. I hadn't grown up in the Midwest, or lived on a farm, or even lived in a small town. But I met so many amazing people who became like family, who welcomed me in, and made Iowa my home.

My first Iowa family will always be the people of Clinton, particularly those from my church. They supported me through unemployment, the death of both of my grandfathers, my work at the Clinton Herald and my side photography business, my marriage to Nick, and our move to Iowa City. They opened their homes and their lives to a pastor's kid from Texas and made me part of the family.

The youth group in Clinton also helped solidify my love for youth ministry by allowing me to be a small group leader and occasional teacher. I will never forget those first students I was privileged to work with and know. It was truly an amazing experience to watch them grow up through the program, and to now see them as successful adults.

My second Iowa family has been forged through the past (almost) four years, after Nick and I relocated to the Iowa City area. Once again, a group of wonderful people welcomed us, made us feel at home, and gave us a family. We grew close to peers in our church, and the awesome group of young people who made up the youth group. Later, I would get an even bigger family through my job as I got to know and work with some of the best co-workers I've had.

I never could have guessed the bonds that would be born out of this family, a family that walked with us through many highs and lows. We have mourned together as we have experienced loss in many forms, and rejoiced at triumphs and answered prayers. We have journeyed to other states and countries, and cried on each others' couches. We've shared countless laughs and cups of coffee. We've challenged each other to grow, and shown up in the darkest of hours.

I will always thank God for bringing me to Iowa and giving me the family I found here. I wouldn't be who I am today without each person who became a brother or sister, grandparent, or child. And though God may be leading me elsewhere, I will carry my Iowa family in my heart, wherever the road may lead.
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