Creativity and Empowerment in Student Ministry
In the discussion on the importance and role of creativity in student ministry, I laid out three key reasons why we need a more creative approach to student ministry. In the typical model, where our youth services look like more energetic copies of church services, students and volunteers are not encouraged to tap into their creative abilities and desires (unless, of course, those creative abilities involve either musical ability or speaking ability).
When we resign ourselves to this typical model, we are missing out on one of the most important roles of the youth pastor in any given ministry: empowering people to do the work of the ministry.
In the mini-church model, everything about the service revolves around the direction and role of the youth pastor or head leader in the flow of events. Everything is either leading to or coming from his or her direction and word to the group. When our ministry model stems from a primarily words-centered approach, the natural tendency is going to be to look to the one carrying the words – the pastor – to give direction and purpose to the time. The gifts of speaking and words possessed and honed by the pastor are at the center of this model. Granted, there may be other volunteers who feel confident and capable enough to present a lesson or speak in front of the group, but it still centers largely on the words given, and less on the life-integration of the message into the lives of students and volunteers. The gifts of the speaker are at the center, and students and volunteers are left to respond to those gifts.
Now, what would happen if instead, we shaped our ministries around the passions and gifts of our individual students and volunteers, and allowed the uniqueness of their gifts to play a shaping role in how we do our ministry? The “how” of this will be unique to each ministry, but the “why” is universal – in allowing our volunteers and students to play a shaping role in the ministry and the services, we are setting them up to be stakeholders and active leaders in the ministry, rather than passive recipients of a message prepared over the week in the life of the pastor or leader.
Imagine if students came to our gatherings with the not only the expectation of getting involved, but the desire to be involved. Knowing that the direction of the ministry was shaped by their abilities, and that their abilities would be embraced and enhanced through their experience there, would empower them to take ownership of the ministry as their own. The times that I as a student in youth ministry felt the greatest desire to be involved in the ministry were when I felt that I had a say in what went on – when I was able to teach, or able to lead a small group or worship. In doing so, my unique gifts were allowed to flourish and strengthen, giving me the experience that would eventually shape my desire and heart for student ministry.
Youth ministry has been great at doing this for those who possess those gifts we hold highest – teaching and singing, for example. But what would it look like to do this for other creative gifts? What about the girl who has a passion and ability for photography and painting? How could we incorporate her artistic expression into our services? As a practical example from my experience, over this summer on occasion we would practice lectio divina, during which time we provided art supplies for student to draw or write a response to the story being told. The image to the right came about as a result of this practice, opening up a discussion about what it means for God to experience emotion, a topic that might have otherwise been passed over in the larger discussion of the Flood narrative.
At the heart of this approach is a desire to give students and volunteers a stake in the ministry, to give them the legs to stand on their own rather than looking constantly to us for direction. For volunteers, this means acknowledging that they are not all the same, that some of them are gifted at some things and not others, and providing opportunities for them to take part in the ministry where they are gifted and have a felt strength. Not only does this develop confidence in them, but it gives them a real active role in the outcome of the ministry. This takes a working knowledge and relationship with our volunteers in order to do this, which perhaps is another reason why we are not more creative with our ministries – it’s hard work. But in the long run, unless we want to run the show and be the focus of the ministry, we must empower volunteers and students to take an active part in the ministry, to cease being passive observers and to take an active role. This means taking the risk to try new things. As one professor I had emphasized: “the only wrong method in teaching is the method you use all the time.”