Monday, March 26, 2012
High School SRE and The Lunchtime Group
I was talking with a young guy teaching High school scripture. He had a tremendous difficulty controlling the class. As I observed him it became obvious what the problem was: He wanted to be every body’s friend, and not the teacher of the class. He wasn’t willing to stop the young guys misbehaving, because he was fearful of losing their friendship. As a consequence every lesson left him frustrated and distressed. He brought in other youth workers to assist him with discipline, but they had the same problem. When we discussed the problem he told me. “I know I should have control in the classroom. The other teachers around me cannot afford to have my classroom noise disrupting their lessons. But I don’t want to make the kids hate me by being tough!”
This high school scripture teacher reflects the tension that we all feel. How may we retain classroom control without the young people disliking us?
84 % of children transitioning to young adults leave our churches in their teenage years. It is not that they are going somewhere else, they are just not going to any Christian church at all. They have effectively turned their back on Christian things.
So many go out the back door of the church! Some don’t even get in the front door!
Thom Rainer in Essential Church addresses the question: Why do so many young adults (18 to 22) leave the church, and what will it take to bring them back? Rainer’s research of thousands of churches found four common characteristics of congregations that have effective assimilation.
Key #1: Membership high expectations. More is expected of members in high assimilation churches. Church discipline is more likely to be exercised in these churches as well. These churches typically have required entry point or membership classes. Becoming a part of these congregations is more than completing a card or walking an aisle. Members are expected to be involved and stay involved. Involved means more opportunity to wholeheartedly respond to the Good news of Jesus.
Key #2: Small group involvement. A concerted effort is made to get members and attendees involved in small groups. Relationships are the Velcro that keep people together and coming back. This allows folk a variety of places to hear and understand the gospel well.
Key #3: Ministry/Missons involvement. Rainer’s group found that high assimilation churches encourage people to be involved in ministry. Members who are involved in missions and ministry feel connected to the church. They get the idea of what the church is supposed to be about.
Key #4: Relational connections. Rainer writes, “In any organization, people stay connected more to other people than the organization itself. We are relational creatures. Local congregations are no exceptions. People are more likely to stay connected to the church if they have developed meaningful friendships and relationships with others in the church.”
What does this mean for the high School SRE teacher?
There is a time for everything under the sun, Solomon reminds us; .. “A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;”
There is a time for an SRE teacher to exercise classroom control so that the students may hear and respond to the message of the gospel in the weekly lesson. There is a time to be a teacher!
And there is also a time for building community.
There is a time to be a youth pastor. Perhaps the time to be a youth pastor may be at a lunch time group, where students can be invited from the SRE class to discover the ideal of community and encouragement in a pastoral context at a lunch time group.
This can be the small group where these young people can be assimilated into a loving, supportive Christian environment. This can be a place for discipleship. This can be a place for relationships. This can be a place for missions. This can be an authentic step towards the church for unchurched young people.
I grew up in a family that was very unsupportive of my Christian beliefs. Converted from a life of grime .. (I was a child of the 70’s) the first place I discovered authentic Christian living was the interaction with four girls who, at that time, were the only Christian’s in our High school. I knew them. I had sat behind them in classes for 4 years. It was so uncool to go to ISCF (Inter School Christian Fellowship). And it was so UNCOOL to meet with these girls! But who else was there to meet with? In spite of the uncoolness, this group became an oasis of encouragement in a life thirsty for encouragement. And I learnt to lead bible studies.
The small group ideals modelled in that lunchtime group became my model for setting up lunch time Bible study groups at Wollongong Teachers’ College; groups that grew from an attendance of 3 to an attendance of 100 over three years.
Lunchtime groups can provide the glue that provides the connections that keep young people in the local churches. It can provide the relational opportunities that allow the SRE teacher to be not only the teacher, but also the pastor.