By Greg Joiner
I recently attended the Youth Specialties Conference in Atlanta, GA. I usually resonate with a few of the main session or breakout speakers and this year was no different. Shaun King brought a dominant message about the changes he has recently faced as a pastor, entrepreneur, and follower of Christ. He made the following statement concerning the way the church views change: “people love to hear about it but don’t like actually making changes.” If I could sum up my life and ministry for the past three years with one word it would be “change.” No wonder I resonated with King’s statements.
Some of those changes include getting married, taking on a team leader position with a large student ministry with several staff members and expecting our first baby girl in just a few months. I wish I could tell you that I’m an expert when it comes to change, but that’s simply not the case. In fact, I have a folder in my inbox labeled “changes” where I keep emails from parents that remind me that change is not always easy. Let me first describe one of the changes we recently made in student ministry and then I want to share some quotes from this folder of parents reactions.
A year and a half ago, I led our student ministry team through a creative process to help address some of the deeper questions we felt we were not asking. The living room we were meeting in for those two days gave us the permission to relax, seek God, and dream about where we wanted to see our teenagers faith land after they graduate. I can still remember the nervous tension and freedom I felt after the second day when I realized that we were no longer going to do student ministry programming on Sunday mornings. We were moved by a vision to see students worshipping with their families in the main services and serving kids in children’s ministry on Sunday mornings. That was a year and a half ago and I am still excited when I walk on campus Sunday mornings and see over two hundred and thirty middle school and high school students serving 1st through 6th graders with adult mentors!
This has definitely been one of the most difficult changes I have ever walked through as a student pastor. I learned a lot. When I say I learned a lot… I mean… A LOT! I came across this quote by Mark Twain as our team navigated through this season… “The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.” We developed a communication plan for our parents and church body and the emails and phone calls trickled in for months. I recently combed through that inbox folder labeled “changes” and pulled some quotes from parents:
“I really don’t see how moving young people into the adult service is better for the them….”
“I am concerned about not having a place for _____ to be poured into on Sunday mornings-the Mix on Sunday mornings was a vital part of _____ and _____ middle school experience.”
“I find it hard to believe that my situation is unique. It seems that The Mix is now exclusively for average to above average students with few extracurricular activities.”
“I was talking to several parents with girls going into 7th or 8th grade this morning and we were wondering if any more information was going to go out explaining the decision to not offer any type of worship or Sunday School for middle school students on Sunday mornings.”
“The school week is so busy already, it’s hard to imagine, their only time to meet with student ministry will be in the middle of the week.”
“Our rising 7th grader is so disappointed and really was looking forward to being a part of that Sunday morning FSM that has its own worship and teaching time in the ‘cool’ barn.”
“I understand the concerns of the church with regards to flow on Sundays etc. and getting our children to serve in other areas of the church, but I do not understand at the JR High level, why you would not give them a place to go on Sunday morning to receive teaching that is relevant and understandable to their age and thinking process. Adults are barely able to swallow the depth of the gospel at the levels on which you teach let alone a 7th or 8th grader.”
As you can tell.. change is not always easy. You can expect to get a lot of questions from concerned parents. My role as team leader quickly became two-fold… to make myself available and continue to communicate the “why behind the what.” Here are a few other things I wrote down that may help you as you steer your ministry towards change.
(1) Remember to make yourself available.
(2) Remember when parents respond, they are responding to one thing: how the change affected their kid.
(3) Continue to give the “why” behind the “what.”
(4) Let them know the immediate impact the changes have made for other families.
(5) Video student programs and send parents a link to a recent service.
(6) The rest of your church staff needs to know the why behind the what.
(7) Parents have a right to voice their opinion and they will.
My name is Greg Joiner and my wife and I are both on staff at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. I have been the student ministries pastor at Fellowship for 4 years now. I am currently on my second year of D.min work through Fuller Theological Seminary. I love studying adolescence and the spiritual development of teenagers. I am also a huge soccer fan and my wife and I are expecting our first child this January!