Not all Adventist youth go to Adventist Schools
The structure of Youth Ministry in Seventh-day Adventist denomination is founded on the strong belief that the 3 pillars of home, school and church need to work together to form our children spiritually. The potential power of these 3 institutions working together is evidenced clearly in the findings of the Valuegenesis research. This research leaves absolutely no doubt that the positive influence of the Christian home, church and school can effectively lead our children to a lifelong commitment to Christ and His church. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world where all Adventist young people can benefit from these 3 institutions working together in this way. If there are young people in your church who are unable to attend Adventist schools they are definitely at a great disadvantage as compared to students who can. Thus, it is critically important for all Adventist churches and pastors to understand the importance of “adopting” the local public schools and the students from your church who attend them.
How to Begin the Adoption Process
To “adopt” a student you start by simply saying hello in the church lobby and visit just a little. Sure, you know the "family" and where mom and dad work--but do you know which school these kids go to and what their favorite subject is? Do you know what they like to do on Sundays and what they want to be when they grow up? From there you can take a journey with the kids from your church along with your lay youth leaders that could even end up with starting a Christian Club on the campus where they attend. Check out this whole spectrum of opportunities from saying, “hi” to starting a campus club. I strongly recommend that every church family intentionally choose to “adopt” at least one public school in their area and absolutely be very intentional about adopting every single public school student associated with church. Read over the spectrum of opportunities listed here and then choose your level of commitment and pray for God’s guidance as you proceed.
Spectrum of Opportunities
Level 1: Prayer Warriors
Help your church family choose a public school to pray for. Put this school on all your prayer lists and pray for things like: the students, teachers, for peace, for Christian students to live their faith and for a Christian club (middle school and high school) to develop if there isn’t already one in place. Pray for every public-school student in your church by name every day. Pray that Jesus will open doors and give you opportunities to reach these kids and their friends.
If you want to put some of your prayers into action you can even go to the school you’ve adopted around the holidays and ask the school secretary for the names of needy families to make Thanksgiving or Christmas baskets for.
Level 2: Building Relationships with Students
a. Start by learning their names. Every Sabbath as you see them pass by say hello and ask them about their week. As you learn their names, use them when you address them and try to remember the things they tell you about so you can follow-up the next week and see how things are going. Showing you care makes a huge difference in the life of a child or teen.
b. Bring some food/drinks to youth Sabbath School. Nothing wins the heart of a teen like food! This is just one more way to show you care.
c. Invite the youth to help with scripture reading, prayer, offering call or children’s story. Help them identify and use their talents for God. Ask them to serve as junior deacons or deaconesses. This is a great way to show them that you value and trust them. But remember not to push too hard and to mentor and help them with any responsibilities they do accept—help them to be successful in all they do!
Level 3: Visiting Students at School
For pastors and youth leaders high school student visitation is far more effective at school than it is at home. At school you are on their turf where they spend most of their waking hours and often times face their biggest challenges and need to know how to live their faith.
Simply ask a student you know if you can stop by their school at lunch time and bring them a pizza or two to eat with their friends. I’ve never known a teen to pass up free pizza—especially if they can bring a friend. Ask the student’s parents to call their school the day before and let them know you’ll be stopping by. If you aren’t quite ready to go on-campus—offer to meet them at the front office and take them out to their favorite fast food for lunch.
While you’re eating with them, ask the student/s what it’s like to attend a public school and if they have any requests you can pray for. Ask them if it’s a challenge to live their faith at school and ask why. Ask them if any of their friends are not yet Christians. As your relationship with the teens grows also be sure to nurture their relationships with Jesus by sharing something you’ve learned recently in your devotional life that they may find helpful. Being personal and real is critically important and really quite simple—sharing straight from your heart is best.
You can visit students at school anywhere from once per week to once per semester—whatever it takes to stay in touch and show you care. Being a spiritual mentor to a public high school student and his/her friends can win many souls for the Kingdom and is a priceless gift that will pay dividends for eternity. And if natural evangelism can become a way of life for students while in high school it will also prepare them to live their faith in the work world once they become adults. This should be a top priority for every youth group, church, conference and union.
Level 4: Starting an Off-Campus Ministry
Once you have developed relationships with the youth in your church and taken the step of visiting them at school—on their turf—they will know how much you care and be much more receptive to attending other ministry events that you host on your turf. Here are a few ideas that have worked well for others:
Bible Application Group. A Bible application group is similar to a Bible study group except there is always a focus on how the lessons from the Bible passage can have a lasting impact and change the way you and the students live your lives. There are complete Bible Application Guides for small groups available free on the “Living it: high school outreach” website for various books of the Bible. A new guide is released every fall and there is other basic information on the devotional life to be found there as well: http://livingiths.org/resources/jesus-living-you You can host these Bible Application Groups at church but the best place, by far, is in the home of a caring family. It’s all part of the relationship you are nurturing with these students and is also the “make disciples” part of the great gospel commission—welcome them into the middle of your life and show them how much you care.
Service Projects are a great way to give students an outlet for their faith. As students learn and grow spiritually they naturally want to reach out and help others. Service projects are an entry level outreach that will help students work their way up to being comfortable with more gospel oriented outreach and eventually sharing their faith with others. Some outreach projects that others have had success with include: volunteering with your local city parks and recreation department to help clean up neighborhood parks, serve meals at a local homeless shelter, volunteer at a local after school tutoring program for elementary or junior high students, help with work projects at your home church or any other community-based service project you can find.
Sidewalk Ministry is a great way to help students start bringing ministry events towards their school. In this outreach, you don’t have to get permission from the school because you aren’t actually on-campus. Either before or after school (after is typically better) have your students on the sidewalks taking surveys, asking for prayer requests or handing out tracts. Surveys can consist of questions about personal faith or beliefs, hobbies, social issues or anything that interests teens. The goal is to get into conversations, show care and concern and to offer something that may be of interest or helpful to other students. Some sample surveys are in the appendix of this guide.
See You at the Pole is an event that schools across the country and around the world participate in. It simply consists of students meeting 30 minutes before school starts on the fourth Wednesday of September each year around the school’s flagpole to pray for students, teachers, school, government and the nation as a whole. The event is student-led with adult support and can be attended by anyone who wishes to support the event since it is around the flagpole in front of campus rather than in the middle of campus.
Conference-sponsored Events are another great faith-building resource to connect your students with. Check your local conference website for information about short-term mission trips, camp meetings, weekend spiritual retreats, day-long youth rallies and other youth-friendly events. It is important to help your students meet other students with similar values and interests and to develop a community of believers amongst the youth in our churches.
These are just a few ideas intended to help you to reach out to the public-school students associated with your church family. Public high school students are an especially important group to get to know, visit and stay in touch with. These students can often times feel like the church has forgotten about them because they do not attend an academy, are now too old for Adventurers, often graduated from Pathfinders and many no longer go to summer camp or camp meeting. Because of all these factors that may be going on in the life of a public school student a simple: “hello, how’s it going?” and a short visit over a meal from time-to-time can be a really big deal in their life of faith. And remember, it is typically during high school when young people are making the decision to believe what they were taught as children and remain involved in church or to walk away. May God bless you as you work in this truly evangelistic field that is definitely ripe for the harvest!
Scott Ward serves as the NAD Public High School Campus Ministries Coordinator