Coaching Students to be Tools in God’s Hand

It is spring time and I am spending two afternoons a week - plus Saturday mornings -helping my son’s Little League baseball team learn the fundamentals of America’s Past-time.  This would be a lot easier if I was a baseball all-star when I was younger…or if I had played a lot in high school…or even if I played beyond the age of eight.  Thank God my son is much more athletically gifted than I am. 

He excelled last year at T-ball, so this year he was put in single A, the youngest on his team at age six. Very interestingly my son loves to play the game but hates to practice.  Isn’t that like many of us?  We enjoy the thrill of game-time but would rather skip the boring basic drills that would increase our effectiveness.  I am probably like many youth workers  - I have to force myself to remember the fundamentals of ministry rather than getting absorbed with the fun video-gadgets and programming gizmos that I tell my business administrator I must have. Over the past few months I have noticed the same principals that I am trying to teaching my son to be a better ballplayer are really the same fundamentals that help me coach students to be tools in God’s hands.

Key #1: Build upon the Basics

It is amazing to watch a six-year-old try to field a hard ground ball.  My son, Adam, has amazed me with some back-handed stops.  It was only because Adam knows the fundamentals of fielding that he can move beyond them and amaze his parents.  The same is true with youth ministry; we must teach the basics. Do our students know how to grow their own relationship with God? But even more important, we need to challenge our students to move beyond “following rules” and “pursuing activities” and challenge them to a lifestyle of truth and love – which are ultimately the fundamental parts of following Jesus.  As you teach the basics, see which students respond with enthusiasm and desire more.  We can coach this in two ways: 1). Listen for the Basics.  What are your students saying to each other?  What issues do they passionately talk about? Their faith and knowledge of truth directly affects the love they show to God and others.  2) Look for the Basics.  Do they live consistent with God’s truth in regards to purity, honesty, and compassion?  When you see elements of students living out truth and love, build upon that moment – praise their character, their maturity, their devotedness.  Be careful to not praise performance only; we can create superficial superstars this way.  If we praise performance and not a life lived out beyond the Basics – we will have a youth ministry full of Pharisees seeking the approval of men.

Key #2: Spot the Skill Players

Being the youngest on the team often means Adam plays backup to one of the older kids; kids who had additional years of developing their skills.  As a youth pastor, my tendency is to want to spread myself out equally amongst all my students or leaders.  However, if I want to coach students to be tools in God’s hand, I must realize every student is not equally available or teachable, so I need to focus my time on the skilled players.  Jesus modeled this method when he selected twelve disciples but spent additional time mentoring Peter, James and John.  It is no wonder that the early church thrived under these three men’s leadership; Jesus had especially prepared them for the job.  The danger here is to risk the perception that only the “talented” up-front students get the youth worker’s attention.  I do not mean “talent” when I talk about skill-player.  In fact, talent has nothing to do with being a skill player.  So what do I mean by “skill player”?  How does a coach spot the skill players in his or her ministry?  A skill player is one of three types of students:

Type 1) Influencers/Ring-leaders

If you stand back and look, you will spot the student that all the other students are listening to.  When they suggest an idea, everybody loves it.  When they share a feeling, everyone has the same feeling.  This is a student that any youth worker should focus on discipling.  The effect on the whole ministry will be huge.  The challenge is sometimes this student isn’t a Christian.  While that makes the coaching more difficult and it also makes it more important to influence the influencer.

Type 2) Students with similar interests to you.  

The greater number of connection points you have with a student, the easier it will be to influence and disciple that student to follow after God.  Take a look at your students, with whom do you have a natural “chemistry”?  Use that unique opportunity to develop a close bond with those students.

Type 3) Servant Wall-Flowers.  

These are students who don’t scream out for attention.  They quietly will help you clean up the room, come early to set-up without asking.  These are students who are servant-hearted naturally and with some appropriate challenging, could blossom into major influencers in your youth ministry.

With all of these different skill players you must focus on two issues:  Are they “in” God’s Hand? … Do they have a relationship with God?  This first issue must be addressed before they can be a tool in His hand.  Secondly, are they open to God’s plan? Have they submitted their agenda to him?  A student will not be faithful, available or teachable if these two issues have not been addressed.

Key #3: Run the “play” THROUGH students

One of the most exciting plays in baseball is the “double-play.”  This is not an easy play, especially for younger kids.  As an assistant coach, I can position players in the field and show them how to “turn-two”, but they must run the play.  We need to have the same view about our student ministry.  Either we do ministry TO students or THROUGH students.  Youth ministry TO students places the youth worker at the center of the “ministry universe”.  Too often the youth worker succumbs to expectations that he or she must care for, mentor, and counsel all the students.  Even if we employ a team of adult youth workers, students who are on the receiving end of ministry can become superficial as they develop the expectation that they are the “end” of ministry. 

Rather, Youth ministry THROUGH students teaches students to develop a passion for sharing the gospel, equips students to care for others, and depends on students to expand the ministry.  Students involved in the ministry “play” not only grow deeper roots through service but bigger eyes to see God at work all around them.  It is a subtle, but needed shift in focus to transform a ministry TO students to become a ministry THROUGH students.  Shifts could include taking along a “skill player” with you in whatever you do in ministry.  This might take some prior planning but try these ideas for starters.  If you are counseling a student, take along a “skill player” from their small group.  Tell the student you are counseling this other student and that he or she will be a prayer partner and support for their friend as they work through their issues.  When you are developing relationships with students who are not yet followers of Jesus, take a “skill player” along from their school to show them followers of Jesus are real students and give them a model to look to for answers to their spiritual questions.  You can give “skill players” small opportunities to develop the ministry around by asking them to write postcards with a verse or prayer on them to students who have been missing from the ministry.  Some “skill players” will be able to make phone calls or talk to students at school to further ministry connections.  Ministry THROUGH students might need to start at the program level; where students help plan, set-up and clean up an event.  But also look to utilize “skill players” in direct ministry to other students.  By running the “play” THROUGH students they will catch a life-long vision to be a tool in God’s Hand! 

Can you hear your students saying, “Put me in coach – I’m ready to play!”?