I remember the first time my worlds collided as a teen. The day that my church-going world and high school world overlapped.
It was at an event called “See You At The Pole,” aimed at gathering high school students around their flag pole to pray for their schools. I was attending an all-girls Catholic school, one not often included in the list of those that held “See You At The Pole,” because of an assumption that the faith journeys of students were already taken care of.
The youth pastor at my small Pentecostal church suggested I invite some friends to come, and said that he would bring the golden nugget of youth ministry with him: Timbits! I was terrified of mixing my high school friends with my visibly older (and definitely-not-a-high-school-student) youth pastor, and the church friends who came with him. But we prayed together around the flagpole, and sat on the hill eating Timbits until school started.
I was in grade 11. It took until then for me to experience my faith tangibly impacting my high school experience.
I was vocal about my faith up until that point. It doesn’t take much interpretation when you decline going to parties because you have youth group on Fridays, or when your summer is spent at a church family camp. I wasn’t afraid of telling people I was a Christian. But a visible, tangible faith that actually shaped my life and values?
Reactions from friends were at stake. Maybe even the friendships themselves were at stake. It was the first time I was invited to share my faith, to invite friends (most of whom were nominal Catholics) to pray alongside me and my youth pastor, and to live my two selves at the same time.
Some friends said no to attending (but seemed to still liked me), some said they might come, and – to my surprise – some did.
That morning was a defining moment for my faith. From then on, I cared about sharing my faith with my friends, and could no longer get away with two selves, one who took faith seriously and the other who merely mentioned in passing. It opened my eyes to see my high school as a place where I could do mission. I started caring about what God could possibly do in my friends and classmates who didn’t know Him yet.
Unfortunately, ministry in high schools didn’t exist in intentional ways in my hometown.
And that youth pastor didn’t follow up with those who came.
I had this significant experience of evangelism as a 16-year-old, but felt little support moving forward.
I had no discipleship for how to grow as someone on mission.
This drive to live out my faith wouldn’t resurface for me until university, when I was introduced to InterVarsity by a fellow first-year in my residence. In the meantime, I tried my best to live out my faith the way I was being taught in my youth group. However, I had little success and eventually became aware of missed opportunities.
I often wonder what 16-year-old, 17-year-old and even 18-year-old Vanessa could have looked like if she had someone a bit older and a bit wiser to partner with in the mission of the place in which I spent all of my days. This support could have looked like even one hour a week praying with me for my friends, or helping me learn how to lead a lunchtime Bible study for the non-Christian classmates God kept dropping in my life.
15 years later, as a youth worker, I am burdened for the ministry that doesn’t happen in secular schools. For the mission that doesn’t happen. For the non-Christian kids who will never enter a church or youth group. For the Christian kids who are ready to share their faith to their friends, but don’t know how.
We as youth ministers hold a lot. We hold programming, the care of our kids, serving our wider organizations, interacting with parents, watching the youth budgets, every part of the ministry to our teens. So you may be asking, “Vanessa, why should I care about schools?”
Because Jesus cares about the schools.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus is about sending His followers to the people that don’t know Him yet. Time and time again, He is not afraid to set foot in even the most secular places, not to send His followers there, either. He pours into those who are already in His circles, yes. He does not neglect those who have already said yes. But as a part of their discipleship, He sends them out over and over again to reach those outside of His family.
Because there are teens in high schools who will never walk into our churches.
Fewer and fewer people are being born into Christian homes. Twenty years ago, we could rely on the fact that our teens had parents who at least grew up in Sunday School, or had grandparents who were faithful attenders of their local church. This heritage is now far less common for teens, so they have no experience of church. If we don’t go to them, they won’t come to us.
Because the discipleship of our Christian teens depends on it.
Our Christian teens need mentors who are willing to go to their mission field with them. It shows them that we are not afraid to get our hands dirty, and that they can feel safe to do so, too. They need mentors who show that they care about every facet of their lives, not just their church lives.
Because if we don’t go as youth workers, who will?
If we are already working with youth and have already invested our time and effort into teens, why wouldn’t we be the ones to go? I believe God’s calling in our lives is holistic, and not compartmentalized. We don’t get to pick and choose what parts of the ministry we’ve been called to, which we want to care about, or in which we invest our time. We must be all in, or not in at all, and if there was ever a time to care about high school ministry, it’s now.
There are too many 16-year-old Vanessas out there. They are longing for an older mentor to walk alongside them as they figure out how to share their faith in their high schools. They are waiting for someone to say, “I’ll go with you”. You may even have some of these teens in your youth group. They are teens who see their high school as a mission field, waiting for the harvest to be reaped. And it’s time that we step up as youth leaders.
I understand that it may not be possible for you to actually go to the high school with your teens. The schools may not allow outside people in the building. You may work a 9-5 job that prohibits you from physically showing up at your teens’ school.
Thankfully, “going with” our teens isn’t always a physical presence. Sometimes it is and we need to be ready to sort out what that could look like.
But sometimes, it’s a commitment to pray with your teens for their friends each week.
Sometimes, it’s about teaching our teens how to share their faith and lead Scripture studies in very practical ways.
Sometimes, it’s providing finances for our teens to buy pizza for their friends as a form of invitation to a faith conversation.
And sometimes, it’s about partnering strategically with ministries like InterVarsity, YoungLife, Youth For Christ and the many others that are already doing work in our schools. These partnerships can help us become open to what the students may see as strategic, and can call us outside of our own comfort zones into mission with our teens.
In whatever way we choose to go, the time to care about schools is now.
And the harvest is ready.
So… Was this post for you?
Because if you are interested in partnering with schools then you should join us for a live webinar all about how to partner with schools. You can access it on demand by clicking this link.
You can also get more free resources for working with students in your local school by entering your email below.
We’ll send you things like…
- “42 Week Mission Trip” – a condensed, worksheet format of ideas on inspiring students to think missionally about their school
- “Walking with Jesus Prayer Exercise” – which helps students dream with God about how He might want to be at work in their school
- “Planning a Lunchtime Meeting” – we share one option of what it could look like
- And more!