I will continue to fight for a student ministry that utilizes relationships to connect students in community and share the Gospel. I believe that relationships matter and through these relationships students are able to see the Gospel in action and grow in their faith. Students develop trust with one another and with adult leaders who want to point them to Jesus. They feel safe to share their struggles and hurts, they are free to open up and can be held accountable to their faith. They pursue God best not in isolation, but in community.
This week, I learned we can’t force that. As leaders we can’t make students engage in community, can’t make them build relationships with others, can’t force students to trust leaders. Some students simply don’t want that. Some students don’t want to deal with their struggles or hurts. Some students like their lives of sin. They may connect on the surface level (which is a huge success in itself), but lack the emotional maturity to sink in deeper. We are not stuck though, we cannot throw in the towel and we cannot give up on what we are doing. Here are some things you can do (and continue to do) despite students struggling to engage in a deeper way.
We continue to build a safe environment for all students to come. A place that all students are welcome, despite their reputation, their struggles, and especially despite their drama for them to find community. We create a place that shows something different to students. Environments that limit the drama, that show grace and forgiveness for mistakes, for laughter to be the loudest thing heard. We do that by leading by example. We talk to students about speaking life into one another and not speaking death. We talk about respecting all students and showing the value of all students’ thoughts and opinions. We fight the desire to mock and defend those students who feel they have no voice.
Continue to Invite
We continue to invite those students who are not engaging. Invite them out to coffee and out to a next step event. Bring them into more then they currently area and help them connect more to leaders and students who are already there. The moment you stop inviting students to something is the moment you’ve communicated they aren’t welcomed or wanted.
Leaders engaging students
Have leaders to continue to engage those students. Go to their sporting games or dance recitals. Step into their worlds and meet students where they are. This will continue to break down walls and barriers and build up trust among students.
As a leader, you must develop a culture and a dependence on prayer. Pray for all of your students. Pray for the barriers in their lives that stop them from connecting more. Pray for God to bring people in their lives (even if it isn’t you) that will point those students to Him. Pray for wisdom in dealing with students. Start a prayer journal, ask other leaders to pray for specific students and ask those specific students how you can pray for them. It will make all the difference.
Those fringe students are unique. They are coming to events but have many barriers that are stopping them from going deeper. Be patient, be prayerful, meet them where they are and continue to invite them into a something more.