Episode 4: How and Why Youth Pastors Should Be in the Schools
The first rule of leadership is to “be present”. The church needs to have a strong relational presence in the community from the school, to the city council, to the chamber of commerce, to block parties, serving projects, and hosting city-wide events.
I can speak specifically to our approach to successfully penetrating the school system in Trussville, Alabama.
1. Introduce yourself to the leadership
I first began by scheduling an appointment to personally meet with the principle, assistant principles, school guidance counselors, and any other leadership positions. Be sure to keep these meetings prompt (3-10 minutes) and to be sure they each know that you are there for them. Introduce yourself to the counselors and make sure they have your card to call you whenever they need anything (tragedies will occur, and they will call who they like and who they trust). Building a good rapport with the school leadership is absolutely vital to a successful partnership.
2. Identify the spiritual landscape
There are several important questions to ask when looking to partner with a school. First, where is God already moving here? This question will help you identify what spiritual things are already taking place at the school. Is there a Bible Club? FCA? First Priority? See You At The Pole? Do students here go to church? If so, which church?
The second question you should ask is how can I get involved with where God is already moving? Many church leaders make the mistake of trying to start something from scratch. This is going to be an uphill battle for many reasons (new to the area, don’t have the trust of leadership, no teacher sponsor, etc…). An important step is to swallow your pride, and partner with someone or something else that is already taking place. Contact the church leader or teacher sponsor in charge and ask if it is okay if you attend. You are not looking for a leadership position, just wanting to join in with where God is moving. Be there to encourage them and to meet needs as necessary.
3. Have your staff write encouraging thank you letters to ALL the teachers and administration
As simple as this sounds, teachers don’t get very many encouraging notes. Writing them thank you letters is a tangible way for them to know you are praying for them and appreciate their investment in their students.
4. Identify Needs and Offer to be a part of the solution
The most crucial question to ask yourself when trying to build a relationship with a school is this: What needs can I (or our church) meet? Here are a few examples: picking up trash around the exterior of the building, stocking the teachers lounge fridge, providing new playground equipment, providing school supplies for students and teachers, providing pregame dinners for teams or Gatorade’s at practice (be sure to consider less popular teams or sports like lacrosse, band, cross country, tennis, etc…), offer to financially sponsor events, end of year celebrations, and PTA meetings.
Every school will have a different set of needs that will arise. They might not be thinking about you to meet these needs, so it is important to take the initiative by identifying opportunities and offering solutions. It is important to show the school leadership that you care about more than just getting their students to come to your church.
5. Go to lunch to spend time with students
If the school will allow you, make a point to occasionally stop by for lunch and spend that time with students. This not only shows the students you care about them, but it shows the faculty you care about the students.
6. Be consistent and committed
Although this seems to be a given, in my experience this has been the downfall of most church leaders. Don’t overcommit yourself because it can be difficult to maintain in the long run. The school leadership needs to know that you are committed to serving them. In my experience, it takes the school leadership at least a year of seeing your consistency to trust you with people, programs, and opportunities.
7. Invite other youth leaders to participate
School functions and events can be a non-threatening way to partner with other church leaders. Meeting on neutral turf is a great way to break down barriers, build relationships, and reinforce the fact that we are all on the same team.
8. Create and implement character building assembly (see attachment on digital technology)
Most schools are required to do a certain amount of hours of character building blocks. Through talking with the assistant principal I was able to identify that digital technology was connected to virtually all disciplinary issues. I developed a character building assembly and then presented it to the school leaders who then approved it to be presented to every student. Identify the needs of the school (bullying, gossip, cyber-bullying, fighting, etc…) and tailor a lecture or presentation to solving this need.