Years ago I was meeting with a former student who had gone off to college. He was a member of our church and an active participant in all things youth ministry. Always faithful, there every Sunday and made every youth retreat. We were discussing how things were going at school when I asked about church. I was eager to hear the ways he was plugging in, I knew for a fact there were several great churches in the area. To my surprise he contritely admitted he wasn’t really involved at all. He had tried a few churches, popped in and popped out, but never really felt comfortable. I pushed in a little further and asked why he had not tried to get to know anyone, if he tried a small group or even a Sunday school class. He explained he tried all of those but quite frankly it was awkward. “I walked in and felt intimidated, so I left. I realized I’ve never been in an adult Sunday school class before and I wasn’t sure what to do.”
That conversation was a pivotal point in my ministry, one that began to change the way I view youth, the church and families. What I experienced in that conversation was a run-in with the “One Eared Mickey Mouse”. In 1989 Stuart Cummings-Bond used that phrase to describe the state of most churches. A state in which, the programs of the church and the programs of youth ministry operate on tangential planes. In other words, they only overlap in the slightest of ways. It’s the youth group that many of us grew up in, separate Sunday school, separate worship music, separate Bible study, sometimes a separate building and often in corporate worship students sit together separate from their families. What this model has produced are students who are used to operating separately from the larger church. Therefore it is really easy to not get involved in a new church that is not built around them.
So where does that leave Uptown Church? Well the session of Uptown Church has made an intentional effort to avoid the One Eared Mickey Mouse. We value and desire to see community among the youth age members of our church. In addition, we also desire to see students involved in the rest of the church. Therefore, one aspect of our family centered model of youth ministry is to integrate youth into the larger church. We do this in several ways by including students in the different ministries of the church. One of which is going on right now. You may have seen an influx of students in the adult Sunday school classes the past few weeks. That is a result of not having a youth Sunday school during this block. We are intentionally not meeting in order to give students a chance to take part in the larger teaching ministry of the church. This serves several purposes: 1) Students get to know and interact with more adults in the church. 2) They hear great teaching. 3) They get to enjoy learning with their parents 4) They have opportunity to serve others in different ministries of the church such as the nursery. 5) They learn how to plug in to the life of the church, a skill that we pray will last a lifetime.
So over the next few months, be on the look out for students in your Sunday school classes or serving around the church. You can serve our families by loving the students in our church. Be sure and encourage them. Take the time to ask questions and get to know them better. Let them know you love them and are glad they are here. After all, they will soon be heading off to college and the more they love their church family the better equipped they will be to look for one in the years to come.
If you would like to know more about Uptown’s overall philosophy of Youth ministry click here.
Author: Rev. Wes Andrews