Filling the Bleachers

We recently partnered with Youth Ministry 360 to publish a few blogs for their website. We want to share them with you! Below is the last of 5 blogs. This one was written by Tony Souder, founder and director of the Pray for Me Campaign. 


FILLING THE BLEACHERS FOR EVERY STUDENT

We have all had those backyard moments when we are imagining the closing seconds of the game in the sport of our choosing. The moment when we score the decisive points to win the game and we make our victory run with our arms lifted high into the air while the crowd goes wild. How sweet it is!

Unfortunately, this is only an imaginary moment for most of us. We’re never actually in that moment when the final score relies on us and we make the magic happen. We never hear the crowd go wild at our heroics. That experience is embraced only by a select few. And that’s OK. Because fortunately, life is so much more than our buzzer-beating sports fantasies. Our students do not need to be the hero to flourish in life. But it sure helps to have some fans.

EVERYONE NEEDS AT LEAST ONE FAN!

Can you remember how important it was for you to look into the stands or the audience and see at least one person who was there specifically to cheer you on? The motivation and encouragement that comes from knowing that someone cares about you are powerful.

This truth is actually more important when it comes to passing on the faith to the next generation.  Our students don’t need just one fan; they need the whole church cheering them on. It cannot be overstated how important it is that each of our students has multiple adults (fans) apart from you and their parents who are intentionally cheering them on in faith and life. The “Sticky Faith” research from Fuller Seminary shows this is one of the primary factors in students who stay connected to the church and flourish in their faith.

We see this truth all throughout the Bible. Not the use of the word “fans” but the truth of men and women speaking encouragement into the lives of young people helping them to press on in the faith. The Apostle Paul spends significant portions of his letters cheering on the people of God and making sure key leaders are there to encourage the church when he is not there. Psalms speak of one generation commending the greatness of God to the next.

What about you?

Think for a moment about your own life. Where would you be without the adults who invested in your life? A little reflection usually reveals that God has given you a cheering section filled with fans that have cheered, served, and sacrificed for you to get to where you are in life. Did you have too many fans? Not likely! I don’t know anyone who feels they would have been better off if they only had fewer people who cared about them.

FILLING THE BLEACHERS

My question over the last five years has been something like this: “How can I fill the bleachers, for every student in our ministry, with adults from every generation in the Church who are cheering them on in faith and life?” This is a vital question but it is no small task, in part because the distance between generations seems to be growing along with the distance between student ministry and the overall church. Every student ministry needs to have a plan to make it normal for every student in their ministries to have a “fan base” of adults that is representative of every generation in the Church.

As I have come face to face with the benefits of intergenerational ministry I believe that it needs to become a non-negotiable component for all of our ministries. Don’t stop reading! I understand the how easy it is to be weighed down by the vast responsibilities of developing an effective youth ministry.

Simple, Natural and Repeatable

There is so much great information out these days that can help when you are formulating your plan. Check out all the Sticky Faith resources that are designed for you as a youth pastor and for families. It was the Sticky Faith research that was instrumental in stimulating the creation of the Pray for Me Campaign. Because of their research, we began to relentlessly ask the question: “How can we get more adults connected with more teenagers more naturally than ever before?” The Pray for Me Campaign is our answer to that question.

The PFMC is a simple way of helping churches bridge the gap between generations through prayer. Students are equipped to invite three adults from three different generations to be their Prayer Champions for a school year. The plan is repeatable because each year students invite three new Prayer Champions, which gives them a growing cluster of “fans.” A student who is in your ministry from 6th grade through 12th can have as many as 21 different adults apart from your student ministry and parents who have prayed for them in a significant way.

“I WISH MY CHURCH DID THAT WHEN I WAS GROWING UP!”

This has been the refrain of adults from every age group when they hear about the Pray for Me Campaign. It seems no matter how old we get we can remember our own longing for adults who were on our team. “Fans” who wanted us to succeed in both our faith and in life.

May we do everything we can to give each of our students the intergenerational relationships they need to flourish in faith and life.


Tony is the Founder of the Pray for Me Campaign and Executive Director of the Chattanooga Youth Network, a ministry dedicated to helping the Church flourish in bringing the greatness of God to the next generation. For over two decades he has served the Chattanooga and north Georgia regions by connecting, coaching, and caring for youth ministry leaders across denominational and racial lines. Tony and his wife Rhonda live in Chattanooga, Tennessee with their twin daughters.

Why Are Your Friends So Old?

We recently partnered with Youth Ministry 360 to publish a few blogs for their website. We want to share them with you! Below is a blog written by our Ministry Assistant, Mary Elizabeth Haynes. 


I am a creature of habit. A love of good coffee, good quiche, and familiarity keeps me coming back to Niedlov’s, a quaint little breakfast place here in Chattanooga. I recently met my friend Bailey there for breakfast before she went to school. Bailey is sixteen; I am twenty-six. It was her first time eating there.

One of the beautiful things about Niedlov’s is the people. Most of us are regulars and our order is known before we have time to speak it. As we sat there enjoying both the ministry of small talk and pondering some of God’s goodness, Bailey began to notice something about the people I was exchanging hellos with— they were all older than me. She asked, “Who was that? How do you know him?” I responded, “That is my friend Dave. We go to church together. And that’s Hamilton, we see each other here at least once a week if not more. Oh, and that’s my friend Anna, she stops in on her way to work down the street.”

I could see the bewilderment on her face. “Mary Elizabeth, why are your friends so old?” It was a simple statement, but one that spoke volumes. There are ten years and a few life stages between Bailey and me, but her friendship is one of God’s kindest gifts to me. We parted ways, Bailey on her way to school and I on my way to work. As I drove to my office, a series of questions began to bounce around in my mind.

When did it become the norm to engage and interact with others who belong only to our same generation? Where did we learn this? How do we unlearn it? There is a real problem and the problem is this: we have failed to make friends across generational lines.

Recognizing the problem is not a difficult thing to do. Moving towards a solution, however, is a more arduous task. It is not always easy to engage those that are different than we are. This is especially true of the “generational gap.” It’s scary.

Most of the time we really do need help. We need someone or something to aid us in leaning into the truth of Ephesians 2, the truth that Jesus really does break down every barrier that might divide us, even the barrier of generations. We need help understanding that our point of connection isn't our age but rather knowing that we are all broken and in need of Jesus. It is when we grasp this truth that we are then able to move toward one another no matter our age. As bold as it may be, I truly believe that the Pray for Me Campaign is one of the best aids in encouraging people from every generation to begin moving toward one another.

And this is how it was always meant to be right? The Scriptures are full of intergenerational relationships. I believe this is what God intended for his church. Every young person should have multiple natural relationships with adults decades older than them. My hope is that Bailey, and every young person would have friendships that cause people ask, “why are your friends so old?”

The blessings that come from the Pray for Me Campaign seem to be endless.  As churches engage and participate in the Pray for Me Campaign, what once seemed a gap too big to close is now a little less daunting. What once seemed so foreign is now becoming normal.

Would you prayerfully consider joining me in bridging the gap? Visit www.prayformecampaign.com for more information.


Mary Elizabeth is our Ministry Assistant. If you have any questions at all about who we are or what we do, she’s your go-to person! Mary Elizabeth grew up in Alabama and graduated from Auburn University where she studied Communication Disorders and Human Development. After graduation, she served on staff with RUF at Texas Christian University for three years before moving to Chattanooga in July. Mary Elizabeth lives in St. Elmo, loves a good hike, good coffee, a good book and a good taco.

Frontline Testimonies

We recently partnered with Youth Ministry 360 to publish a few blogs for their website. We want to share them with you! Below is the third of five post published on their website. 


We asked two youth pastors the question, “How has the Pray for Me Campaign impacted your youth ministry?” Their responses were powerful. So we thought we’d share them in their entirety with you.

Tim Keller, in his book on Prayer said, “Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our loves… Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.” The Pray for Me Campaign has had a deep and lasting impact on the life of our church. Students and families have seen and experienced change. Older generations, through the catalyst of prayer, have been folded into the mission and vision of the student ministry. Prayer, using the prayer guide, reorders our lives and takes us farther away from the sin that entered in the garden, namely, that you can’t trust the goodness of God or His commitment to our happiness and well-being.

 

It is easy to sometimes forget our role in the life of the church. We just show up on Sunday and allow the professionals to handle the rest. The Pray for Me Campaign “reorders our loves.” Our church, in the midst of transition, has seen the student ministry remain constant in Kingdom impact. I have no doubt this is a direct impact of the Pray for Me Campaign. Having an army of Prayer Champions praying Scripture-saturated prayers has aided in the student ministry.

 

Part of my vision for student ministry is to impact the community our church resides in. This shift would not have been as successful without the Pray for Me Campaign being launched in my first year at the church. If prayer is not a central part of your student ministry, Tony Souder has given you an opportunity to change that with the Pray For Me Campaign.”

— Ryan | Student Pastor in Chattanooga, Tennessee

“Since launching the Pray for Me Campaign in September, we have seen an untold impact on what I would call the invisible link between teenagers and the church as a whole. Too many times, youth ministry is done in a vacuum or a silo as if what is done at the youth gatherings has no significance or bearing on the church as a whole. Launching the Pray for Me Campaign has brought the needs of students to the forefront of the thoughts of many adults who were previously disconnected from our youth ministry.

 

This past year, there are several examples where the bonds of the Pray for Me Campaign literally became the spiritual glue that would bind up wounds and bring healing. For one eighth-grade girl, her prayer champion served as a pick-me-up when she was feeling alone and isolated in the midst of middle school drama. Another tenth-grade boy needed his prayer champion in a way that no one except God could have fashioned. After suffering the loss of a friend to suicide, this young man reached out to me for prayer, and I was able to connect him to his prayer champion, a fifty-two-year-old lady, who had recently lost her nephew to suicide.

 

The Pray for Me Campaign has impacted at least three facets of my youth ministry: 1) the spiritual growth of students, 2) the awareness of student needs, and 3) the spiritual lives of adults in the church as a whole.”

— Bobby | Student Pastor in Ringgold, Georgia

We pray you are encouraged by these frontline testimonies from the Pray for Me Campaign. If you would like to see this kind of change in your church, you can find out more about the Pray for Me Campaign by clicking HERE.