Wow, summer has ended, and the beginning of school has ushered us into fall.
In our local church, this is the time when we are promoting students into their next grade-level and ministry program.
This is the season when we are re-energizing families to get involved in weekly services through events and activities.
This is the moment when we are trying to build steam into the new academic year, and what is normally our busiest season of ministry opportunities.
It’s full of discipleship events, weekly services, small group meetings, bonfires, TCBY takeovers, paint-wars, concerts, See You at the Pole, and Friday-night football.
However, we have a completely different outlook on this fall. The pandemic has (arguably) changed ministry as we know it (forever). Consider stay-at-home orders, mandated quarantines, masks and social-distancing, half-capacity school-attendance rhythms, and just the anxiety some students and families are still experiencing as we enter the fall season. Some of our churches have been able to reopen their doors for in-person meetings on a limited basis, but others are still completely online, and still others are unsure how they’ll ever reopen their children and student ministries under these conditions.
To make matters more difficult, the atmosphere in our society has changed. The sudden shift online has saturated everyone with content. Social media and ZOOM-fatigue are real things. Plus, leaders and volunteers feel like they have lost significant “relational capital” with students because they have only been able to text, ZOOM, or call since March. Acknowledging that even if we could open our doors tomorrow and get back to “normal,” the goalposts of success in ministry have been shifted.
We are asking questions like,
- When are we going to be back on-campus again?
- How are we going to have weekly services?
- What about those staple-events in our yearly-calendars—will those ever be a part of our strategies again?
- Will the families who made our church their home return when everything opens again?
- How are we going to pivot to continue reaching this generation?
Regardless of the cultural climate, we can’t deny our commission and mandate. We can’t deny our calling and burden to go and make disciples.
What are we going to do with this challenge we’ve been given?
How are we going to maximize this opportunity for the Kingdom?
We MUST and we WILL pivot, adjust, and adapt to this “new normal,” and just like every other obstacle placed in front of the Gospel, these too will fall at the sound of His Name.
Since COVID-19 pulled the proverbial rug out from under us, I’ve started contemplating the “Big Rocks” and how my personal and professional priorities have been upended. There’s an old object-lesson about time management that pictures a cylindrical glass vase and an assortment of large rocks, a bin of smaller rocks, a bowl of pebbles, a bowl of sand, and a pitcher of water. The goal of the exercise is to fit all of those objects into the glass vase—essentially a metaphor for the limited time we have on earth and the many desires, tasks, relationships and responsibilities we have while we’re here.
The premise of the object-lesson asserts that our ability to fit all those desires, tasks and responsibilities into our limited time is directly related to how we prioritize them—which ones go in first? If we start with the sand, or the pebbles, the water, or even the smaller rocks, we’ll never be able to get everything into the limited space of the vase. However, if we start with the largest rocks, then gradually add the smaller rocks, then the pebbles, the sand, and the water, we will find our “vase” to be filled with most (or all!) of the desires, tasks, and responsibilities we have.
I believe that well-worn lesson is a great illustration for how we can approach a new method of ministry in this new moment in history.
- We need to choose which values, methods, and results are most important in accomplishing the mission of our Savior and His Church in our communities and make space for them in our fall-strategy.
- Once we’ve prioritized that which is most important (in terms of values, methods, and results), we can begin adding the smaller components of processes and programming, and next, the events and activities that add value to those processes and programming, and then… well, you probably get the idea.
It’s critical that we don’t hesitate in this moment, but actively take advantage of whatever “pause” we have left before our nation reopens and our calendars begin to fill again. What are the “big rocks” that we’re going to make sure to include in our ministry planning for this year?
Here are some resources to help identify those rocks, and make sure they’re present in our fall strategies.
- Check out “Lead Small,” by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas. The Lead Small philosophy really does all the heavy lifting when it comes to establishing a strategy for ministry to families and students.
- Check out Fuller Youth Institute’s website for lots of resources about the young people you’re attempting to reach, and insights into how to reach them.
- Check out Feed for some incredible (and FREE) resources, statistics, and curriculum options.
- Check out the training and resources offered by https://youthpastor.co/.
- Call up one of your peers in ministry and pick their brains to learn from what God is doing in them and through them. You might even be able to work together…
- Give one of your Student Ministry Advisory Team Members a call/text/email and share your heart with us! We’d love to partner in prayer with you about where you see God leading your church and ministry to your community.
This COVID-19 “pause” opens the door to all of us to shift and pivot into more effective ministry coming into the fall. Don’t miss this Kingdom-moment; this is an opportunity of a generation.
Rev. Stephen Jones currently serves as the Pastor of Student Ministries at Whitnel Pentecostal Holiness Church in Lenoir, NC. In 2002, Stephen earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Christian Ministries from Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, GA. In 2008, he completed a Master’s of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Since 2002, Stephen’s full-time ministry to teenagers has spanned two IPHC Conferences, three IPHC churches, and numerous IPHC summer camps. Stephen currently occupies the Leadership and Skill Development Portfolio under the Student Ministries Advisory Team.