A goal, or at least should be a goal of every Youth Pastor, Student Ministry Pastor, Next Gen Pastor, or whatever you identify as these days, is to visit your students at the nearby schools. Many Student Ministers hope to be guest speakers of a club, service the “See You at The Pole,” or simply visit at lunch. In high school, there was a Fellowship of Christian Athletes where we got to pray, hear a speaker (usually a Christian professional athlete), and fellowship over pizza that the nearby church brought in. This was pretty cool for the 90s and effectively convinced a few friends to join a youth group or at least an event.
As the years continued into the turn of the century, you saw other Christian clubs pop up on campuses. Some such clubs, like Campus Crusades for Christ and Young Life, made a good impact on exposing students to the gospel or a palpable version of Christianity. These were good outlets to bring students to camps and small groups and provide mentors; however, over the years, culture seems to be pushing back at any Christian or religious clubs.
As the years went on, the culture shifted to more of a postmodern worldview, and more believers began retreating to their Christian school bubbles out of fear of the unbiblical influence on their children. With fewer Christians in the schools, Youth pastors started to experience more obstacles to visiting campuses. When active shooters sadly became a regular occurrence across the nation, schools rightly began increasing security which unfortunately added another level of challenge. Weaved throughout these landmarks was an increasing hostility towards Christians due to politics and social stances on issues (this can be a blog in and of itself). Then a final nail in the coffin was COVID lockdowns. Regardless of your opinion on the subject of COVID, the effect is that most clubs, guest speakers, and athletics were put on hold. As life is returning to a new normal, schools are reluctant to approve the restart of these clubs on campus or any clubs that bring in outside people. I’ve even been aware that YoungLife is struggling in certain areas to rejoin for an on-campus meeting.
Now call me a cynic, and I probably am, but the days of going to the public school and planting the “JESUS FLAG” are over; it is time for a new but classic strategy, infiltration. Matthew 28:16-20 (the great commission) has a line, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The word “go” or “poreuomai” in Greek means “in your going”. This can be taken directly, meaning purposely “go” and state “I’m here, and I’m making disciples,” or indirectly, it can mean, “in my going” through society, I will influence to make disciples. We focus so much on bringing the church/parachurch name to the campus and lament when it fails, but we forget we can still be “the church” on a school campus.
My fellow workers, I propose that you stop trying to bring your agenda to the school but rather go to the school, see their needs, and ask how you can serve them. Many schools need support for teachers, counselors, coaches, teacher aids, and booster club members. Coming into the local school as a church ready to help with no agenda other than to love and serve will not only be fulfilling the great commandment but might be an avenue to the great commission. One might then look at a school and say the church is not there because they see no “JESUS FLAG.” However, suppose you infiltrate by being a substitute teacher, admin, coach, teacher aid, booster member, and security. In that case, you are now in a key place to be an effective body of Christ serving its community. The gospel will then be shown in deed; they will experience a loving heart, then the church might just earn the right to influence once again with the gospel.
OR you can stubbornly continue what is no longer working; it is your choice.
Joseph Valenzuela is the Executive Pastor at New Life Community Church in Scottsdale, Arizona.