In my first job as a youth pastor, I thought I thought I “had the right” to have lunch with my students on campus. This wasn’t true, but trying telling my 22 year old self that. Regardless, I cared more about my rights than doing real ministry for and with students, teachers and administrators.

Now, at almost 51, I have a different idea of what it means to minister on campus. Here are some of my new practices for ministry when I am on campus.

Empathy

Whether it’s high school, middle or elementary, we must remember these kids are made up mind, body and spirit and not just spirit. They need someone to come along side then and understand them, even if we’d don’t understand them.

I recently had flashbacks of my elementary years and how hard some of them were for me. I saw the kids I was subbing for as little me’s or as classmates I once had. In remembering my struggles, I was able to warm up and be human instead of just a sub.

Listening

I recently had some micro-conversations with a student and he was telling me he missed the previous advanced class he used to be in. He seemed like a kid out of place, like this classroom was too small for his brain, like he had to dumb himself down to fit in.

Listening sounds counter-intuitive to someone who should be teaching, but listening is teaching by example. I am teaching them that their voice matter and I care about what they’re saying. So many kids are not being heard and it leaves them feeling frustrated.

Affirming

In one class I subbed, I probably walked a couple of miles around the classroom checking on kids’ work and helping them when they got stuck. As part of helping them I tried to affirm the work they were doing not just the lack of work they weren’t doing.

Simple word like “You got a lot done” or “”You’re crushing it” can go a long way to boosting that kids self esteem, even if it’s just in the moment.

Curiosity

I live in the south so there is a fair amount of church talk in the classroom among students. When I heard some kids talking about church I asked, “what do you like about church?” and their responses were what you might expect from a nine year old, “I like the sports we play” etc, but one young man liked how they sat around and read the Bible and discussed it.

Students were working on a vocabulary sheet and some of them did not know the meanings of the of words, so I gave them a dictionary and told them to look them up. One of the words on there was genuine, and I think my curiosity afforded me the chance to be genuine with students. Kids can tell when you’re a phony. Curiosity is the antidote to phoniness.

Less Punishment/More Discipline

I don’t like writing kids up. In fact, I have only written one kid up out of the past seven jobs I’ve had. For me to write a kid up, that kid really has to do something egregious like swearing in class or a general disrespect for authority. Before I do a write up I have to ask, myself “Will this write up help this student or will a warning be best?” Writing a kid up may bring a consequence for an unsuitable behavior, but it won’t change that kids behavior. So, what do I do instead?

If it’s elementary, I put kid’s desks outside. I separate the kid from the class for a time just so they can collect themselves and have some think time. Discipline rather than punishment helps me manage the class better and help the student get back on track.

Stay in your lane

One of the roles of sub is not to get in the way, physically, emotionally, or spiritually of a child’s education. These kids have work to do and I am there to do a job. Doing your best to do your job help these kids have fairly normal day in spite of having a sub.

So many subs want to make the classroom about them, but I think that’s the wrong posture. Kids want me to do my job which is to help them do what they showed up to do not create a new agenda. If a kid has to worry about their sub making a power move, then they’re not doing their work. If a kid is worried or afraid about what I am going to do, that’s not good ministry. In fact, it works agains the goals of the class.

I don’t yell or scream or demand anyone’s respect. I stay in my lane so kids can stay in their lane and traffic moves smoothly through the day.

Don’t take it personal

These are teenagers. They are emotional human beings. They say and do hurtful things. I do not take it personally. Taking things personally means emotions get involved which means a situation can escalate and I don’t want that to happen because it gets in the way of a kids learning and me doing good ministry.

Instead of getting offended, I take it as par for the course, keep my emotions out of it, keep an even tone and do my job which is to help that student get through the day with as little trouble as possible.

Use Humor

A well placed joke, not sarcasm, goes a long way with a teen or kid. Once I said , “You know how to do this, this isn’t rocket surgery or brain science.” After a few confused looks I saw some smiles and a few ” I see what you did there” Kids need a good laugh once and a while.

You don’t have to deliver lines like Jerry Seinfeld or try to be over the top like Kevin Harts. In fact, I don’t try at all, I just work with the material kids give me and try to find something funny in it.

Be kind

Being a good and decent human being is good ministry. The why behind being a good a decent human being, for me, is that God did not make me to be a jerk, that’s my choice.

Kids might have other jerks in the their lives like bullies, parents, etc. they don’t need one more. Jesus said,

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus said. “Do this and you will live.”… Luke 10:27,28

The next time you find yourself on campus as a sub, which I recommend all youth workers do at least once, as a coach or just helping out, remember, teachers have it difficult enough without us youth workers making it worse.

We can do great campus ministry by being who God made us to be and by focusing on loving everyone on campus rather than trying to build our youth ministries. We need to love people from the lunchroom to the custodian to the principal. Do that, and your campus ministry will be fruitful.

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