Student pastors, leaders finding new ways to “do ministry” amid pandemic
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — When the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic first began impacting daily lives, many youth pastors were sent scrambling.
The entire landscape of youth ministry changed almost overnight. Trips and events were postponed or canceled. On-campus gatherings were suspended. Things that were once considered “routine” parts of youth ministry had to be altered or even temporarily eliminated.
And yet, despite the tidal wave of challenges, many youth leaders across the state refused to believe it was “game over.” Instead, they began seeking — and finding — creative ways to maintain their relationships, and build new ones, with students in their area.
Here, in their own words, are a few examples of how some youth pastors from around the state have approached the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and what advice they are giving to other youth pastors who are dealing with the rules and guidelines (social distancing, mask wearing, etc.) that are now in place.
North Fork Baptist Church, Bell Buckle
Working as a bivocational youth pastor, connecting with students during this pandemic has been a little challenging. I have been blessed with a godly wife who is just as passionate about youth ministry as I am. She has created a group chat on Instagram, which is where most of my students can be found, and that platform is used for getting announcements and information out to the masses quickly.
I have learned that they are not very talkative in the group chat but respond wonderfully to personal messaging on Instagram which is what our goal as leaders ought to be — maintaining that personal relationship. My wife gave the students a challenge to send her their first day of school pictures along with “their one” (Who’s Your One Devotional) and the first five to respond received a gift card mailed to them.
I have been providing weekly Bible study material online during the pandemic. I keep my messages around twenty minutes and record them on Facebook Live in our group page.
Then I will download the video and upload it to YouTube, my personal Facebook page, our church group page, and the Instagram group chat. During this time, it has caused me to stop and consider: “Have I prepared these students for a time like this? Are they relying on me to lead them in their relationship with Christ?” Philippians 1:27 has haunted me – live your life worthy of the Gospel of Christ whether I am present or absent. In response, I have taken this time to create an online discipleship training for my students because church attendance can’t be what they rely on to grow in their relationship with Christ.
My pastor, Rob McKamey, said last week, “When the Great Commission tells Christians to ‘go,’ church is not where you’re called to go. If church attendance is how you ‘go,’ you’re not going!” And this is how we are reaching out to our students now.
Student and Missions Pastor
Chinquapin Grove Baptist Church, Bluff City
If I hear “the new normal” or “unprecedented times” anymore, the next person might get a dodgeball upside the head. There is nothing normal about what we as a church, a society, or even in our own families, are facing now. Thankfully, the church has traditionally applied the sage advice that Clint Eastwood (while playing the role of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway in the movie “Heartbreak Ridge”) gave to his men when difficulties arise: “Improvise, adapt and overcome!”
Constant questions from parents, students and other leadership inside the church — such as, “What are we going to do with our students? What are we going to do with our kids?” — have left many of us becoming broadcasters overnight.
We have had to master ZOOM Bible studies, virtual VBS and children’s churches, and many of us had to get pastors used to preaching to empty sanctuaries and to look into the camera.
(My advice is): Keep it up!
Many of our students are feeling the pinch of the lack of socializing with their friends (even though we are in more constant contact now than we ever have been).
Our goal while we wait for schools to start back up (even in the disjointed manner that most of them are), while we wait for sporting events and band competitions and other events that we normally go to, to support our students and connect with our parents: constant contact. You cannot meet a need you are unaware of. Call, text, social media, meet when and where you can, and pray, love and serve your Lord by loving on your students and their families.
High School Pastor
Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis
When all this started in March of 2020 who knew that we would be faced with a ministry such as this? For many youth pastors like myself, we had to move quickly to change just about everything that we have known in student ministry. No longer were the big events or the large gatherings a part of the ministry philosophy.
At my church we made a decision within a couple of weeks of quarantine that we needed to shore up some of the foundational principles in our ministry. One of those being, how we are to train and equip our adult volunteer leaders. We used the opportunity to rework our entire training and equipping process.
Here are a few guiding thoughts as we revisited our training and equipping process:
(1) Provide solid content. A properly trained and equipped leader can sustain ministry much better than we can; therefore, we must do better in providing content worthy of their time. Don’t waste their time. Honor it. Make your training worth their attention.
(2) Train them up to be a youth pastor. Have the mindset of, “I’m going to teach you everything I know in order for you to minister to your students like a youth pastor would.” Equip them in how to present a lesson every Sunday just as much as you would be equipped to handle a teenager in crisis. We wanted to empower them with a shepherd’s heart.
(3) Our training practices must be intentional and inspirational. It’s one thing to stand in front of your leaders and inspire them to serve your students. It’s another thing to equip them with exactly what you are asking them to do. We could not just rely on being inspirational and hoping our leaders would get it. We had to be clear with our expectations and inspire them to do it.
(4) It has to be flexible! Create a digital training experience where leaders can be trained anytime, and virtually anywhere. We were not real sure when in-person on-campus classes will start, so we knew all of our training had to have a digital component. We could no longer rely on, “Hey, we’re having a training meeting up at the church. You should come. We’ll have free food!” So … we set up our iPhone with good lighting and clear sound. Recorded several short training sessions (four, to be exact). Then, we uploaded them to our YouTube channel and sent our leaders the link! It was almost too easy! Why didn’t we do this before?
Who knows what the future holds this fall, but believing we have expanded our ministry influence through equipping our adult leaders only deepens how we can best minister to our students during a global pandemic. The old adage is true: “smaller is better.”
And unlike any time in our recent history, when large gatherings are not happening and you can’t see all your students at one time, the small group ministry can keep your student ministry moving forward!