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Generation to Generation: Moving The Finish Line

Each week we’ll be writing about different ways that we, as leaders, can effectively be examples to our students, and we’ll discuss different topics to talk over with our students. These topics range from relationships to being active in a small group. All of these topics are nuggets every leader can apply to his or her life. It’s our hope that you’ll check back to see what next week’s topic is, and that you can apply what we’ve learned in your own life as a fellow volunteer youth worker.

“Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.” Psalm 79:13

We need to move the finish line back farther

As Student ministry leaders we work towards developing students into Christians who are firm in their walk with God, and we strive to help them through their teenage years. But for many student ministries, a student’s high school graduation is where the goal line is. We need to find ways to move back the goal line, develop strong leaders and keep our students firm on the path. Here are some tips on how to do just that.

Steven: Coming from a perspective of junior high ministry, this topic is very different for me. In Southern California, our junior high schools are (typically) grades 7 and 8, which doesn’t allow a ton of time in our ministry. There are definitely pros to this situation, like forcing us to be more proactive with our students in order to develop them quicker, but there are cons as well. While two years seems like a long time, it takes junior high students a while to get to know each other if they all start as strangers. By the time they’re comfortable with each other, you’re well into the two year timeframe, and you’ve really got your work cut out for you.

Because of this short ministry time, we need to make sure that our high schoolers are not reaching the end of the line when they receive their diplomas. While junior high seems short, high school probably seems even shorter at times because once they’re done, they’re not really considered “student ministry” students anymore. They move into one of two groups: college-age churchgoers or unchurched college students. As a college student myself, I’ve realized how many people that I used to see in our high school ministry have not made the switch after graduation to college ministry. For some reason, the allure of partying and other college fun is stronger than the pull of the church, and we can’t afford to let that happen. Here are three ways to get your junior highers set up to continue on in their walk with God after high school is over:

1. Get them involved in something they enjoy. If you find something early on and keep them interested, they’re way more likely to stay involved with the investment they’ve already put in. Ideally that investment will be tied with the church in some way.

2. Stay connected with them. Just because they’re not your students anymore doesn’t mean you should shun them. I still talk to my former small group students all the time, even though they’re in a new small group.

3. Make sure they stay together as a group even after they leave your ministry. In my 6 years from grades 7-12, I had 5 different youth group leaders, but my small group stayed together. That made a huge difference when we started college, and most of us are still in the same small group today. When my last junior high group was moving on to high school, I wanted to make sure they stuck together, regardless of the leader.

Don’t think that because you’re a junior high leader, there’s nothing for you to do in this situation. If you start now, you can begin moving the finish line back further even before it’s within sight.

Matt : As I’m writing this I’m thinking about the guys in my high school small group who are seniors. I’m gonna be really sad not to have them around next next year. But at the same time I’m asking myself, “Have I done all that I can to develop these guys into leaders? Have I done all that I can to help them know Jesus, and learn to turn to Him first in times of need and praise?” I don’t want all these Wednesday nights we have spent together to just be a “time filler”. I’m praying that each one of them is spiritually better off now than they were two years ago when we first met. This past week two of the guys in my high school small group became junior high small group leaders. These guys both have personality, and I know junior high kids will take to them really quickly. It made me feel amazing last night when I looked over at the table in our Student Ministries building and saw them sitting there with a group of junior high guys that they are now leading. A year ago I could not have pictured this at all. And I know it’s not me or my co-leader that brought about the change in these two guys, it was God using us for his will.

At that same moment I also asked myself, “What about the other guys in my group? Are they going to be able to be leaders and be examples to others of what it’s like to be a Christian? Are they going to remain the God inspired, church attending, Jesus loving, awesome examples to others that they are now? Or will they graduate from high school and find themselves in that awkward area of “no longer in high school, but not quite in college yet” group that sometimes has no place to go in church?

Here’s what I think we should do to start preparing students:

1. We have already recommended to our seniors that they begin getting involved in the college age group here at Saddleback Church, I want them to know they will have a new church service with new friends and have some place to land before they make the commitment to attend what I refer to as “big church” with the grown ups.

2. Know your students’ weaknesses, and help them overcome those problem areas in their life, no matter what they may be.

3. Get them to commit to being in an adult small group once their high school small group days are over. I love the guys in my adult small group and I couldn’t make it without their love and support. Same thing for students,

Bottom line, life does not end when your high school years do. It’s just beginning. We need to insure our students are ready for whatever life throws at them once high school is over.  If we’ve done our job then we also insure that good leadership skills and examples will continue to get passed down from generation to generation.

Are you doing all you can to prepare your students for life after high school?

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Dennis Beckner has served in youth ministry leadership for Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA since 1999. Dennis is a contributor and speaker to youth training events, writing projects and other engagements. Contact him at his blog, VolunteerYouthMinistry.com.