Last week I was hosting a Q&A for the year 9s from our local school when we broached the topic of suffering.
“Why doesn’t God just control everybody to stop them doing bad things!” a young lad asked me.
“If He controlled everybody all the time,” I responded “then He could decide to make you a ballerina right here and now in front of all your mates, which would probably be a bit awkward.”
We followed up by looking at the importance of God allowing us to make choices and giving us dynamic (not autonomous) freedom in order for us to be fully human.
At the end of the session while his friends were boarding the coaches, he came back up to me with “we’re gonna have this out! Why can’t God just give us some basic guidance when choices come up in our lives, or some basic help when we’ve got to make hard decisions eh?”
“That’s exactly what He does do,” I replied delightedly, “but in order to hear His voice you need to know who’s speaking, you need to pick up the phone and dial the right number, you need to start a relationship with Jesus.”
“Wow, I should convert then!” He yelled jubilantly (and possibly slightly tongue-in-cheek) then he bounced off.
Without a solid relationship with my local school and the golden opportunities that it provides I don’t think I ever would have had that important (albeit flyby) conversation with that young person. It all comes down to having a quality attitude for Christian school’s work.
The Silver Bullet
School’s Work is the silver bullet for youth ministry – if you’re not involved in any kind of school’s work you can almost all but guarantee that your youth ministry’s days are numbered.
School’s Work provides a rolling community of young people who add longevity to your ministry projects. The days of the drop in, bring a friend youth club are ticking away. You have to build relationships with young people in schools where they are at and you have to do this in a way that adds value to the school itself.
Our attitude to School’s Work should not be ‘trying to get in,’ but instead a compassion-driven, servant-hearted desire to add value to that school.
“I ask lots of questions and I say ‘yes’ a lot.”
My first conversation with a new school is around how we can serve them. I go to meetings armed with knowledge of the curriculum and with understandings of extra-curricular requirements that they might struggle with. I ask lots of questions and I say ‘yes’ a lot.
I’m confident that what we do in our local school’s work adds educational and social value to the students, I’m confident that the staff are happy and I’m confident that this provides opportunities needed (without being subversive) to share the Gospel with Young People in an honest and open way.
Some ideas to consider:
1. Look for the unconventional.
In my current ministry we’ve taught RE yes, but we’ve also taught drama, PE, social studies, critical thinking, CV writing skills, street dance and internet safety. We also fill requirements for acts of worship, enrichment, Duke of Edinburgh and work experience. Go with what they ask for and provide what they need.
2. But work with what you have.
Can you provide a learning experience at your local church? A day out with a tour, talk and quiz in your church building can tick a whole load of academic boxes and is often a great way in while challenging stereotypes.
3. Don’t be afraid of giving it time.
If your mission is to go from 0-60, from first contact to school concert to setting up a CU in a few weeks – good luck! Finding a niche in a school might take a couple of years of providing different services, but it’s well worth it.
4. Make specific suggestions.
Schools don’t often take initiative with outsiders, especially with the volume of potential visitors they have to consider. Give the school specific options with outline plans and learning objectives. It’s far more likely that they will consider something if they don’t have to put that amount of extra thought into it themselves.
5. Make the right friends.
Specific senior teachers, caretakers and reception staff – the Holy Trinity of the school and those who really have the most access. After every weekly club I leave all the ‘extra’ doughnuts with the reception staff, I’ve been for drinks with heads of RE and I’ve always tried to set the rooms back before the caretaker arrives to take over.
6. Actually make friends.
Teachers are real people and we should be seeking to develop real relationships that are personal and open to life outside the school.
“Be low maintenance and high value!”
7. Be professional.
School is not youth club, it has specific learning and social development objectives. At PGCE you are taught how to work within this structure, at YouthMin training you are not! Learn how to write formal letters, dress appropriately, follow up clearly, have short and efficient meetings and communicate with different levels of staff properly. This will go a very long way. Be clear about your objectives and don’t be overly demanding. Be low maintenance and high value!
8. Care about what they care about.
School’s take a lot of time committing to a small group of charities and local community work. Rather than trying to add to this list, look for ways you can work with them on the same projects for the same causes.
9. Don’t push your luck.
You are in the school as a guest. Always be honest and open about why you are there, be clear with your opinions, don’t overreach for more than you know and don’t encourage an ‘us and them’ mentality with you and the teachers. Subversiveness doesn’t serve anyone!
10. Get a shed load of people praying!
Not only for the ways in and for the developing relationships but for protection. A surefire way to loose your hard earned connection with a school is the one phone call from the one angry parent who thinks you are there to indoctrinate. So see point 9, and get people praying!