Monday, August 11, 2014

“Raising the Bar” (School Year Theme – 2014-2015)

A few weeks ago, I was planning some changes that are happening in our ministry and turned to a ministry friend for advice. As he explained his experiences with a Sunday format that I am planning to try, his biggest piece of advice was to “raise the bar” – both in planning quality curriculum but also by expecting our students to commit to learning too. This got me thinking about other ways we can “raise the bar” in ministry…. which got me thinking about ways I can “raise the bar” in my own life and encourage others to do so as well. And so, our school year theme was born!

As Christians, we should strive to be more like Christ in our daily lives, not by simply “going through the motions,” trying to earn our salvation by our own works, or behaving like Christians on Sundays alone. Christ (and the whole of scripture) calls us to centre our lives around him in every way – whether it’s at work, school, at home, with family and friends, in our relationships, our prayer lives, how we worship, the way we serve, you name it! We want to challenge everyone connected to Bethany Student Ministries (be it leaders, parents, or teens themselves) to “raise the bar” in your own personal walks with Jesus, as well as on a communal level. In what areas of your life are you “settling” in your faith? Do you carve intentional time out of your day for prayer and Bible reading or simply hope you remember? Is church attendance a back-up plan compared to your other activities and commitments? Are you as excited about serving others as you are about being served? Wherever you are at in your walk of faith, we encourage you to look for ways to set the bar higher in your life. Maybe that means committing to being at youth every week, regardless of other plans. Maybe it means prayerfully sharing your faith with friends when that’s out of your comfort zone. Maybe it means setting up a reading schedule instead of letting your Bible collect dust. Jesus didn’t call us to follow him half-heartedly, or only when it’s easy for us. He calls us to live a life of radical faith, radical love, and radical worship.

On a ministry level, we want to set the bar higher when it comes to reaching out to students and their families. We don’t want to settle for playing some games or entertaining kids with some fun activities while we neglect to share Jesus with them. We don’t want to focus so much on students that we fail to make connections with parents. We don’t want to put the emphasis on being “good” in the eyes of other Christians, without talking to our students about following Christ in their daily lives. We want to raise the bar in all areas so that our ministry is centred around Jesus and making disciples, rather than on entertainment or teen babysitting.

This means there are some changes coming up this school year. We want to move away from creating programming just for the sake of attracting warm bodies to the youth room and instead move towards doing ministry together, discipling teens intentionally, and equipping them as they search for who God is as they grow in their faith. We have evaluated all aspects of our ministry and talked about how we could be doing things better – how can we glorify God and follow what Scripture instructs us when it comes to ‘doing’ church together?

Here are some of the changes coming up in September - click below to view the rest of this post.

Sunday mornings – affects both iConnect and Youth

Instead of offering age-based classes, students will be able to choose between different ‘modules’ that interest them. We want students to take a real interest in what they are learning and be able to connect with the curriculum in their own ways. There is no ‘one size fits all' approach to effective teaching because students learn in different ways – visual, kinesthetic, auditory, introverted, and extroverted students are all part of our ministry! By offering 2-3 different classes each week, students will be able to choose the lesson series that they care most about. All of our students have had opportunities to give feedback about what they want to be learning, and we are working on a teaching schedule that can incorporate their many diverse interests. This allows us to bring in more volunteer teachers to interact with our students than just 1-2 teachers on a rotating schedule. We want to move towards more intergenerational ministry and this is one way to do it. We are setting the bar high for students in the process – each month, they will be able to sign up for Sunday classes, but we are asking them to commit to the lesson series instead of attending whichever class they feel like each week. Most of the lessons will be in 2-6 week series and students will be asked to commit to attending one from start to finish. Each week we will aim to offer lessons that target different learning styles, such as deeper study topics, life application, and hands-on lessons. Our goal in these Sunday morning changes is to move away from a room filled with tired, reluctant teens and move towards an environment where students are excited to learn as they connect better with the curriculum.

Friday nights – Changes in Youth only – iConnect remains the same!

We are moving away from event-based programming for a few reasons. The first is that we design our events to be evangelism-friendly, but most of them are not successful (this is not the case for our preteens!). Instead, want to plan one outreach event a month that is strongly designed to bring friends to, and has worked in the past. This means more time to plan them, and better quality events. Another reason is that the feedback we have received from students points towards a small-group based ministry. Small groups are where students can build deep connections, be discipled and mentored by leaders, be prayed for and pray for others, and talk about life together. Small groups have been particularly attractive to new students and non-Christians. Another reason for this change is that many students want to delve deeper into the Bible and are keen to learn more – but many just don’t attend Sundays! We want to offer ways for them to connect with Scripture at their level, and Friday nights have the highest turnout of our meeting times. On the first week of each month, we will offer one outreach event and will choose events that have been successful in the past (e.g. Make a Movie night, the Christmas party, etc.). For the rest of our Fridays, a normal youth night will always include games and small groups, and usually will include worship, a service project, and a message, but this may vary as we try and incorporate other activities that we weren't able to include in previous years. This new format gives us more time to play with as well – opting out of a worship set in favour of a service project won’t mean that we don’t worship musically for an entire month like in the past. If we want to try something new with small groups or teaching times, we have the freedom to play with our time a bit more. This also allows us to talk about different themes without ‘losing’ students on the event weeks (e.g. 3 weeks in a row talking about service, or high school problems, etc., rather than every second week). Please note that this change only impacts our grade 8-12 program. Preteens need more playtime at their age, so iConnect is not changing this way in the coming year. They will still alternate between event nights and Alive nights the way they did last year as they include shorter devotionals in more of their events.

Student Leadership – (mostly) impacts Youth
This year, students have been hand-picked to be on the team. Instead of having a large group of students who applied to be on the team, which was very hard to manage, we have chosen a handful of grade 11-12 students who have shown a deep desire to love and follow Jesus in their everyday lives. These students will be responsible for planning the calendar and making key decisions together. However, any student in our ministry can serve! This new team format allows any student to sign up to help out around the youth room (e.g. running welcome table, leading a game, etc.) instead of just the student leaders doing the work. Meanwhile, the students who have shown that they have strong leadership capabilities will be looking for ways to involve their peers and will be leading the direction we are moving in. This is similar to how “big church” operates. We are excited to look for ways to connect all students in our ministry in a deeper way! This may impact iConnect as our student leaders plan a schedule that allows iConnect to join us for worship, as well as sends students over to iConnect to help out and get to know their younger peers and lead activities.

You may notice that Youth Bible Study isn't listed here. That’s because we are giving students the month of September to sign up for a Bible study and let us know what kind of study they prefer (e.g. specific meeting dates, long or short term studies, etc.). Once we have a better idea of what the needs are, information will be posted about Bible Study options here – watch for more info in late September as we intend to start meeting in October.

Well, that just about explains everything! I am so excited to start our new school year! If you have any questions or comments, please send me an email - I'm away for most of August but I will try and respond on the days that I'm home and would love to hear from you.

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