Student Ministry Gatherings

September 11, 2013 — 12 Comments

Over the next few weeks, I’ve asked several members of our team at The Austin Stone to write about how missional communities integrate with some of their areas of ministry.  To start with, my friend (and former intern!) Scott Frazier wrote a series on Student Ministry and Missional Communities.  You can find more about our Student Ministry here.

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Student Ministry Gatherings

In my last post I gave an overarching view of our student ministry at the Stone. I stated that we believe that our role is to “equip parents who will disciple their kids and disciple kids whose parents won’t”. Todd has written extensively about incorporating children into the life of your missional community and I briefly touched on how we strive to equip our parents.

Yet, how do we functionally operate as a student ministry?

Sunday Morning Gatherings

Since we are a mobile, multi-site church, we gather our students for worship, teaching and fellowship on Sundays at every campus during our 11:15 service. Why 11:15 you ask? Great question. Since most teenagers are a terror to try and get out of bed on a weekend and since we desire parents to keep their sanity during the process, we deduced that 11:15 would allow enough time for families with older kids to make it to service without killing one another!

I know your also thinking, “Hold on…no Wednesday night gatherings with pizza before hand?” First, to assuage your food worries and concerns, we have found a better substitute for pizza. Since our ministry is located in Austin, Texas we provide breakfast tacos. There is a breakfast taco restaurant every few miles and it is food group in and of itself here! All joking aside, we chose Sunday’s because we desire our students’ week to be freed up so that they can integrate with their family’s missional community and be involved in a discipleship community. Our desire was to be less programmatic and more relational.

Teaching & Discussion

Our Sunday gatherings consist of worship, teaching and discussion groups. The teaching is aligned with the preaching from the main pulpit so that we can help cultivate conversation between parents and their kids once they leave service. This provides a common language as parents continue in their call to disciple their children.

Not only do we align teaching, but we also provide a space for discussion groups for our students after the teaching. After many sermons where I would ask the kids what I taught on last week and there would be no response I figured something needed to change. Now, after each teaching we allow space for our students to converse with their leaders and each other.

We usually revolve conversation around two simple questions:

  1. What is God showing you? 
  2. What are you going to do about it? 
These discussion groups allow students a place to discuss areas they need to grow, or be encouraged to share the gospel with a specific friend, etc. We’ve seen more retention with our students since giving them some time to dialogue.

Assimilation

Lastly, Sunday is a great space to assimilate kids into your ministry. It gives us a space where we can meet families, get kids connected to discipleship communities, and let them know what events are coming up. I strongly believe there is still a seat at the table for students to gather together even within the missional framework. Students need to be in a space where there is common social fabric.

Gathering together allows our students a place to know others and be known by others. It allows them a space to invite their friends to hear Christ proclaimed and start gospel conversations. It also allows kids with no strong parental support a place a familial stability.

What role do you think gatherings play in student ministry?

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

12 responses to Student Ministry Gatherings

  1. Scott,

    Just to clarify: your student ministry meets while their parents worship elsewhere? I’m curious, because it seems like you want your students to be involved with their family’s missional community but not with their family during Sunday worship.

    Thanks for doing this series. It’s very helpful!

  2. Ethan,

    Great to hear from you brother! Looking forward to dialoging with you on this subject in particular.

    In regards to worship gatherings we leave it up to the parents. It’s very similar to the way parents view schooling. We have parents that land all across the spectrum. Some are staunch homeschoolers, some are public school all the way while others choose classical private Christian schools. This translates to a families involvement in church as well.

    Some families feel strongly about going to worship with their entire family and some families desire for their children to go to a students gathering. However, due to our alignment we can serve the family either way.

    Another reason we have a students gathering is because we know that a few of our kids don’t have a family that will go to church with them. A students gathering creates an environment for them to land.

    Our desire is for every student to be involved with a discipleship community (which will be a post coming soon) and to be involved in our events and retreats. Yet, when it comes to gathering we can be more flexible to a families convictions or a students home life.

    What about your student ministry? How are you structured?

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

  3. Scott,

    Thanks for your reply. That is very helpful, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

    With that said, I would tend to disagree with that paradigm, as I believe corporate worship is very important for the life of the teenager. The more he/she is involved with the entire congregation in the preached Word, prayer, and the sacraments, the better. I’d have a hard time offering a worship service exclusively for teenagers, because they are not getting the full experience of worshiping with young and old alike.

    Also, you write that there are teenagers who do not have parents attending with them. I don’t see that as a reason to create an entire service geared toward them. Rather, I see that as a fantastic opportunity for other teenagers and adults to “adopt” them into the wider congregation, taking part in Sunday gatherings and missional communities.

    Of course, I am not serving in your context, so you may find that this is the best way to make disciples. Either way, I appreciate your willingness to take part in this blog series.

    Regarding my own situation, while I have spent about eight years in youth ministry, I do not serve there at the moment. I’m in my last year of seminary. However, I am currently looking for Assistant Pastor positions related to youth and family.

    • Great thoughts Ethan.

      I agree in your conclusion that context should drive what you do. I can remember people saying you need to go into a location and plant the gospel & see what expression of church needs to grow there. There are some basic principles that we need to follow (marks of the church, discipleship, etc.), but methods can be fluid.

      I’ve felt the tension that you described. This is where many churches that do a “midweek” gathering or just missional community/small groups for youth try to strike a balance between the two. They have a students worship during the week and then have the students go to worship with their family on the weekends. Being a mobile church we have to be a little more flexible!

      Yet, I would ask a few questions in response.

      1) What about application for students? Typically, most sermons are geared towards adults and their lives. Often, I’ve seen many of my students in the main service struggle with how what is being taught actually gets applied to their lives.

      2) Just because something is separated does it mean that it’s not apart of the wider congregation? (i.e., even though the children are in a “kids service” would you consider them not “in the congregation”).

      Thanks for your honesty and response.

  4. Great discussion, and I believe your points are valid. I’ll just quickly answer your two questions at the end.

    1) Yes, I believe there should be application for students, though this can be done in a number of different ways, including the sermon itself (I often throw in application points for youth and children in my sermons) and especially in missional community and LTG settings. It seems that most heart transformation happens in the context of one-on-one relationships with adult leaders and especially parents. Equipping parents with family worship guides is a great way to apply both simple and difficult doctrines of the faith.

    Furthermore, while I grant that sermons are sometimes over the heads of our children and teens, it is more about forming them into worshipers of Jesus, rather than bringing them to hear a 45-minute lecture on the Bible. This includes the sacraments, prayer and confession, the recitation of creeds, etc. that are present in corporate worship (depending on your context) but not in student services. So there is more to a Sunday gathering than just the sermon or being able to apply the message to our lives.

    For all the effort we put into creating a unique experience for teenagers, I’ve seen teenagers who would rather go to Sunday school with their parents than sit through another teen-aimed talk. This may not be a one-size-fits-all, and I certainly would allow for creativity here, but philosophically I would find it hard to separate students from the wider body during Sunday gatherings. That’s why I think it’s different than having a midweek or Sunday evening deal.

    2) This is true, and it does create that gap between “kids church,” “student church,” and “big church.” Like I said, I don’t think it’s one-size-fits-all, and I’m not a full family-integration kind of guy (although I do cringe a bit when we have to “dismiss our children to children’s church”). But when we assemble together as the church, there is something special about us all being together in one place, rather than scattered throughout the building. Of course, this is the existential argument that may not be shared by others, but children and teens worshiping with college students and adults and older folks is a brilliant picture that our faith is being preserved by the Spirit from generation to generation.

    All this being said, if children and teens are an active part of family MC’s, then that can go a long way in showing them what the church is like. But I still think they’d be missing the special aspects of corporate worship that I mentioned.

  5. Loving the interaction here gents…keep it up!

    Ethan, I’d love to hear your theological, philosophical, and practical reasons for integrating. Scott, I’d love the same!

    • Great responses Ethan. Completely agree that it’s never a “one-size-fits-all”. Todd reminded me that models were meant to serve people. We should always strive to serve the wider congregation.

      I also agree that there is something special about “corporate worship”. In regards to integration versus age specific we actually attempt to do both. My rhythm last year at one of our campuses was to have student services 3 out of 4 weeks and then have “family worship” once a month. We don’t get to practice this for spatial reasons at some of our other campuses, but it’s been a good way to attempt to strike a balance between both. We had great response with this practice from our families, students and volunteer leaders.

      I would also love to dialogue (per Todd’s request!) with you about the philosophical reasoning of full integration versus specialized programming and how it practically gets worked out. It seems that you are a proponent of student ministry and the missional community model, yet it seems practically you a pressing a “Sunday-centric” view of worship v. worship in the familial community.

      You touch briefly on how integration into a family MC would be valuable, yet feel the tension on the Sunday environment itself. However, I would press that sacraments, prayer, confession, creeds can/should be practiced in the life of the missional community.

      If the said practices above were being implemented in the life of the M/C, students were being discipled by their parents while having volunteer leaders supplementing the family would you feel differently about a Sunday expression?

      Keep the content coming!

  6. Great questions, Todd and Scott.

    Scott, I don’t think we are too far off, actually. If what you say is true, that the sacraments, prayer, discipline, etc. are practiced in MC’s, then I have very little issue. It seems like you are simply reversing what many in the church practice (and maybe this is what you were saying earlier).

    I’m not necessarily Sunday-centric, as I take more of a Continental Reformed view on the Sabbath, though I do still see value in the entire body gathering together. Of course, I don’t think this is as much a theological (or normative) argument as it is an existential argument. Hence, the one-size-fits-all comment.

    And “yes and amen” to your last question!

  7. Love reading this discussion! Thankful to Todd and Scott for posting this series, and I look forward to the upcoming posts.

    If I have it right, Scott, you are saying that your gatherings are for age-specific teaching, obedience-oriented discussion, and assimilating new students into the group. You do them on Sundays philosophically so students can be fully integrated in MC life with their parents, and practically because most of your campuses are meeting in high schools.

    In thinking about our student ministry gathering, which happens on Wednesday as all good ones should [:)], we do this for all the same reasons, but I would add a one.

    I think a regular large gathering can facilitate discipleship relationships, especially for student leaders who have responsibilities to fulfill. For instance, our band is primarily students, but is lead by an adult leader. This provides a context to teach them about faithfulness, humility, etc. Also, in having solid adults lead discussion after the teaching (which we do as well), the students are connected with an adult who they can reach out to when they are struggling or looking for answers.

    I do have a question for Scott. I wholeheartedly agree from Deut 6 that parents are the primary disciple-makers of their students. Your goal is to “equip parents who will disciple their kids and disciple kids whose parents won’t.” But, you say that the primary ways you equip parents is through other ministries in the church—MC, Development programs, conferences. Are there things you and your student team do to specifically equip parents, or is it mainly being careful not to over program youth events during the week?

    This comes from a genuine place of burden—I want the parents to disciple their kids, but I am not sure how to equip and encourage parents outside of close personal relationships with them (which is quite impractical even for my small group).

    • Lawson,

      About time you jumped into the mix!

      You did a great job succinctly summing up our approach both philosophically & practically. I’ll unpack in greater detail at a later time, especially as I think through the theological components of what drives our type of integration. At times I do envy the Wednesday night gathering…takes me back to my youth days! Except, hopefully you don’t have disgusting carpet or posters of all the popular Christians band like mine did!

      I completely agree with your section describing the students gathering as an environment to foster and cultivate a discipleship culture amongst student leaders. A worship expression allows another place for our students to connect with a student leader outside of just a small group gathering. If you didn’t gather and your students were fully integrated into the family m/c then they would be hard pressed to connect with other discipleship relationships, which I believe to be crucial for the development of a student.

      To answer your question about equipping parents, I believe our role to be three-fold.

      1) Connect them to the larger body.
      2) Let them know about or create specific equipping opportunities.
      3) Resource & Educate.

      *Connect Them to the Larger Body*

      The best place for a parent to become a stronger parent will be in the context of a community on mission. Missional community allows them to be obedient to the Scriptures while being sharpened by other families in the church, especially older families who have already walked through that stage of life.

      *Equipping Opportunities*

      I remember vividly a turning point in my marriage. The turning point was a marriage conference put on by the Stone where Paul Tripp spoke. He helped me see in a fresh way how to love & pursue my wife (while making me more realistic about my marriage!). We need to let families know about conferences or classes they could attend to help them grow in their parenting.

      So for us this looks like connecting with the larger Family Ministries (Kids & Students) and throwing a mini-conference or letting our families know about ones to attend.

      My partner in crime, Matt Hanvey, is actually piloting “Mini Parent Conferences” that will help provide space for our parents to connect, learn, and dialogue about parenting specifically. He’s also creating a “Stone Parent Network” (not sure about the name…need a good acronym..you know 😉 where we create a PTA type environment for our families to get involved with. This would allow us a place to dialogue, figure out felt needs, and disseminate information.

      *Resource & Educate”

      Every week we send out a parent email letting them know what we discussed in our sermon on Sundays. We also give them some questions they can ask their kids during the week that will help facilitate family discipleship.

      Every other week we’ll be sending out parenting content. This could vary from a great blog post (probably from Tripp! Ha!), a sermon series, a upcoming conference or book recommendations.

      Now, we have mastered none of these things. You’ll see a lot of “piloting” & “creating” language because we’re still trying to figure things out!

      Thanks for hanging with my long response! What are you doing right now to help equip parents?

  8. Thanks for the thorough reply Scott. This is good stuff! There are some handles to grab on to here that will help me serve families better.

    And for some reason it doesn’t surprise me to see you Stone guys piloting and creating. I’d love to hear how the “Mini Parent Conferences” work!

    • Of course my bro! Would love to help you think through any of that stuff! Feel free to call or email.

      What steps would you take to engage your parents practically?

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