Preparing Students for Ministry Now
If you’re like me, you’re mesmerized and inspired by the actions of the students from Parkland, Florida in the days following the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On one hand, I’m surprised by the influence, power, and momentum they have created; and on the other hand I’m not surprised at all.
The passion, idealism, and empathy of teenagers is something we youth workers see on a regular basis.
This groundswell of voices calling for change has also been a wake-up call of sorts for me, as to what I am preparing my students for through my ministry. What do I prepare students to do? What role do I believe they have in the present kingdom? I’ve realized that what I think doesn’t necessarily match up with what my ministry is producing. Too often, the student ministry I lead communicates that I am working to prepare students for some future thing, instead of the present.
A careful reading of Ephesians 4:11-12 reveals what I ought to be preparing students for. Depending on which version of the Bible you read, in verse 12 it says that as pastors and teachers we are to equip the saints for “service” or “work.” In the original Greek, this word is “diakonos,” which is translated as “service or execution of the commands of another,” “deacons,” or “acts and work of ministry.” So if I believe that teenagers are included in the saints, then I must ask myself if I am preparing them for significant work here and now today.
If I am ready and wanting to prepare them for significant work in the church, in the community, and in the country, then I also need to remember a few things.
1) It’s going to be messy. They’re teenagers. They aren’t going to get it right every time. I don’t get it right every time. But this is a great opportunity to practice and teach grace.
2) My students might not be passionate about the same things I am. That is also because nobody knows the world and needs of teenagers better than they do. I need to listen to them, their needs, and their passions.
If I am ready and wanting to prepare them for the “work of ministry” then I must also remember to do three things:
1) I must give them and prepare them for ministry and service of significance and value. Jesus sent out his disciples to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons” not long after he called them to follow him. In some cases, they were able to, in others they were not (Mark 9). Jesus gave his followers important work to do long before they were fully prepared, and before the Holy Spirit was given to them as a helper. I must avoid the temptation to only give safe things to teenagers.
2) I must prepare my students to serve. The core part of the definition of “diakonos” is the execution of orders of “another.” Teenagers must learn that everything they do is in the service of Jesus, and that often service happens in obscurity and without recognition.
3) Train them to train others. I think I take 2 Timothy 2:2 seriously in that I’m passing on my faith to teenagers. But this passage reminds me that I must also train them in a way that they are prepared and empowered to teach others. If I’m preparing teenagers – the saints – for ministry, replication will not just be a lofty goal but would be a natural outcome of what the church does.
Young people have always been a powerful movement in the church. Perhaps if my ministry takes seriously this command to prepare them for ministry, for significant work in the church and community, not only will teenagers feel more inclined to remain in the church (because they don’t just feel valued, they feel necessary), but the kinds of things we are seeing and hearing from teenagers in the past couple weeks would be more normative in the church…and the church will be healthier for it.