Student from the Outside
My first day of youth group was one of the most important days of my life. After being chased by a rooster and stepping on a nail (and deciding not to tell my parents so they didn’t make me go get a tetanus shot), you could say I was determined to attend this group my friend’s older brother invited me to. I didn’t really know what youth group was, but it was at their house and I would get to hang out with the older kids, so I was in. I only remember two things from that night: someone asking if God made aliens, and the way the youth pastor and his wife (Brian and Claire) took an interest in me.
It wasn’t until the following summer that I would understand the story enough to give my life to Jesus.
As someone who didn’t grow up in church, it was a year of unending revelation and playing catch-up. That year was transformational and set me on the path to where I am now: on staff at this church that changed my life and working with Brian, who introduced me to Jesus. Looking back on my experience and trends I’ve noticed in the lives of my own students, I’ve come up with a few pointers on helping assimilate kids from the outside into our student ministries.
Get to know their parents
Though my parents had no context for discipleship, they were instantly on board with any plans I had if Brian and Claire were there. They were probably a bit skeptical of this 23-year-old woman taking me to get dinner or coffee all the time, but because Brian and Claire took the time to get to know my parents, it was never a boundary in discipleship. I was able to regularly meet with Claire to figure out what it looked like for me to follow Jesus and partake in endless camps and retreats and pool parties and sleepovers to grow in community.
Reconsider your expectations
It’s easy to assume that the students coming into your gatherings and groups will have a certain amount of knowledge on bible stories and church culture. When a student comes in from the outside, it’s likely that they don’t know the stories or the expectations. In church settings, it was a challenge for me to get bits and pieces of the Sunday school stories everyone else seemed to know. Certain series reexamining these stories and people willing to explain what a parable was and how to understand them were critical in my understanding of the gospel.
Church culture is a truly bizarre niche to understand coming from the outside. Modesty was a term I had never heard and no one cared to explain, but felt comfortable expecting. What it means to have a relationship that honors the Lord was another concept I had no context for. Even ideas like using words of affirmation and biblical ways resolve conflict were never taught to me. It’s easy to invite students to join our groups, but completely unfair to instantly lay expectations on them. Through years of finding my groove in this odd family of the Church, and loads of grace, I’ve learned how to do all of these things. But it takes time and teaching, with few instant expectations.
Help them find family
Without parents that were following Jesus, I had very little practical examples on how to do so. The few hours I interacted with adults at church each was helpful, but not nearly enough to learn how to do it in my everyday life. Families who invited me into their homes and lives were the ones who taught me the most. The parents of friends from church have been some of the biggest keys in my growth. My youth pastor and his wife were an excellent resource, but there are many others to share the job. Identify families in your body that love discipleship and get new students plugged in with them. Moments as simple as dinner with friend’s families have given me living examples of how to love people more like Jesus and learn from those with great wisdom.
Support them in following Jesus and honoring their parents
There have been moments when following Jesus seemed to directly oppose the commandment to honor my parents. Those brought some of the hardest conflicts of my adolescence. When my parents wanted me to put all of my time and energy into sports, I chose church. My parents wanted me to pursue basketball and softball, but I wanted to go to youth group. There was a spirit so full of life at church and I wasn’t willing to pursue anything else. Sports lost their appeal and Jesus became the most interesting thing, which brought conflict with my parents. As I was getting older, I spent more time with friends, who happened to be from church. In a sense, I think my family felt abandoned. I was now diving headfirst into this new life they had no connection to. As normal as it was for me to be gaining independence, they thought it was the church taking me away from them. It took years, and is still a challenge, to learn to first honor what the Lord has called me to do, then to love and honor my parents. The support and guidance I had in doing so was critical to my development in hearing from the Lord and loving my parents well.
Students from the outside face the same challenges as any new believer and it’s our job to help them navigate what it means to know and live the gospel. This includes identifying and celebrating the new discoveries and revelations the Lord brings to each of them while helping them make their way through our upside down ways in the Kingdom of God.
Sidney Hays is the Student Life Coordinator at Northstar Church in Loveland, Ohio. She is a University of Cincinnati alum and is returning to get her Masters in Social Work. She is passionate about bringing people, especially students, in and helping them find their place in God’s story. Mental health, foster care, psychology, Reds baseball and One Direction are some of her favorite topics of conversation. You can connect with Sidney on her blog, Twitter or Instagram.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.