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4 Reasons Why Service Leads To Discipleship

4 Reasons Why Service Leads To Discipleship


For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” Luke 22:27, ESV.

What is needed to develop a thriving, dynamic student ministry? I’m sure everyone who just read that question groaned inwardly and sighed. You’ve read the books, taken the courses, and tried every retreat. What’s it going to take!? I recently sat down with a few student pastors, and many of them echoed these sentiments. All of them were anxious and frustrated with their lower attendance and the pervasive apathy in their ministries. Many have been pressured to "do more" to bring students in. One of these pastors was even told, "Or else we may have to examine your future here…." Take heart, my friends. We all struggle, and ministry is more challenging now than it has ever been in our context. Yet we have a tremendous opportunity with a generation that is intensely motivated but lacks any serious motive.

Our students seem to have either everything or nothing. Students have incredible dreams and boundless energy but struggle with chronic depression and the dreaded “what if?” question. How are we to reach them with Jesus? How are we to “laugh with those who laugh and cry with those who cry”? How do we engage them in reality and make them entranced with the Kingdom? Perhaps the answer isn’t so much a new one but rather an old one. What if we were to model and engage our students with Biblical servanthood? Here are a few things that we see happen as students serve: 

  1. A Real Sense of Belonging

To serve is to work on someone else’s behalf. It isn’t something that is done alone or for oneself. Service always connects us with someone else. Think about it. Any group project requires the group to know one another and work towards a common goal. Games can help break the ice in a group, but you rarely learn much beyond the surface. An excellent practice for building community is to struggle, work, and achieve something side-by-side with others. The military calls this the “esprit de corps.” It refers to the feeling of loyalty and fellowship that develops when you’ve undergone something together. When a group of students goes out to clean up someone’s yard, they now have a shared experience that unlocks their own personal experiences. The introvert now finds their voice, and the extrovert begins to listen to others. It isn’t about “me” anymore. There’s an “us” that wasn’t there when they started. Everyone has taken part in the work, and everyone now has a place.

  1. Catharsis Leading to Change

Yeah, that’s one of those words we had to learn back when we were forced to study Shakespeare. Catharsis refers to the releasing of hidden or repressed emotions while experiencing something else. Exercise, music, and talking to a friend are all forms of catharsis. God has given us incredibly complex brains that store untold amounts of experiences and thoughts. Even when we try to forget, certain memories and emotions are just below the surface.

Ecclesiastes 5:19 claims, “work is a gift from God.” Why would it say such a thing? I believe it’s because work isn't just about completing a task but also what we work through in our hearts while serving. The Holy Spirit often uses these opportunities to help us process and heal from what we've experienced ourselves. Painting a building at a women's shelter will allow the young girl with the paintbrush to process and share her struggles. The adult chaperone who couldn't have children now has an opportunity to teach a young man how to hang a door. In the process of serving, lives are changed. Through service to others, we find a release from some of our own burdens and have the chance to bear one another’s burdens as well.

  1. A Safe Place to Practice

Teens have long been stereotyped as the ones who are most likely to do something crazy and wild. You may even shudder as you remember some of the insane stuff you tried to pull off when you were that age. While many students talk endlessly about things they want to do and can do, they often become silent when you call on them to do something. Why? Is it because they are lazy or selfish? No, I don’t think so. I would say that they are actually scared. They’re afraid of getting it wrong and being ridiculed. Students are fearful of a picture, a video, or a TikTok going viral that they will never live down.

The first commercially available camera phone came out in the early 2000s, and social media came out around the same time. Students today have never known the kind of privacy and forgiveness that was enjoyed before such inventions. Providing opportunities for students to serve in the Church allows them the freedom to try something new and learn without judgment or shame. You’d be amazed how few students know how to cut grass or cook and clean. Take a few students with you to cut grass at a widow’s home and see their fear turn into a healthy pride when they mow their first lawn. Even if it takes them several tries to knock it all down, congratulate them! Watch as a new friendship forms between your students and a thrilled senior who realizes someone cares for her.

  1. Family that Celebrates

Family is a complicated subject in student ministry. I once had a student who winced every time I handed him medical release forms. It took me a while, but I finally realized why such a simple thing caused him such pain. It was because his family wasn't so simple. Yes, he lived with mom, but she didn't have custody. His grandfather had custody, but the young man's insurance came through his mom's ex-husband. The insurance was current, but getting an updated copy of the insurance meant going to dad's house. And when that happens, chaos ensues. Many families are so complicated that it’s hard to celebrate birthdays or even a child’s success. Ephesians 2:19, though, paints a picture of the Church as a family made up of former “strangers and aliens” who are now “members of the household of God.”

Serving alongside the Church body gives students plenty of chances to celebrate with a new family. Do you want to see a congregation excited? Show them students who are serving and growing in Christ. The students will be celebrated, and Jesus will be exalted. Connections will be made that span the generational gaps of the congregation. You will find much joy as you see your students begin to serve in ways you never thought possible. They’ll do it, not for free pizza, but for the glory of God.

Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • What service events has your ministry done that have been helpful for students to grow in Biblical servanthood?
  • How would you like to see your church grow in celebrating your students?

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