Just a Phase: Which Phase is the Most Important?
Last week I started reviewing Just a Phase by Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy.
Chapter one answers the question, “Which phase is most important?” Orange has broken down kids and students into 13 phases. We’ve all heard studies about the percentage of people who accepted Christ by a certain age, or the rate at which teenagers and college students are abandoning faith. For those who work with a specific age group, they might answer, “The phase I am working with.”
And they would be right. A middle school boys small group leader needs to focus on the details pertinent to the boys in his group. He’s not worried about what is happening in the nursery at the same time his group meets. In fact, he’s probably quite glad he’s not sitting in the nursery.
Every church needs people who feel at home and in a niche with a group of students. These specialists can:
- Remind everyone else of the importance of ministry to this age group. When it’s time to dole out budget money, specialists ensure that their phase doesn’t get overlooked.
- Become experts on the subculture of their age group. They can learn quickly the lingo, dress code, drama, likes and dislikes, latest movie craze, website, temptations, struggles, and needs of their students like no one else.
- Communicate Christ in a contextualized manner within their students’ subculture. From preschool worship leaders singing about how God made us to elementary hosts pretending to be a character from the latest Pixar movie to youth ministry specialists texting Scripture
- Partner with parents of those students. Contrary to what some might expect, a youth pastor or children’s ministry pastor may not be the best resource for a parent. That nod goes to the small group leader who consistently sits with that student. If parents are concerned about the spiritual formation of their child, the very best person for them to get to know is their child’s small group leader!
Now, while the current phase is definitely the most important one, so also is the phases before and after that one. The book says, “Effective ministries know how to focus on a specific age group and see the overall vision for a kid’s life” (p. 44).
This means that not only does the church need specialists, but also generalists who can see the big picture, assist with the transitions, and remind the specialists of the end in mind. Generalists may not have close contact with each student because their job is to call people from preschool ministry through high school ministry to the same kinds of things. These generalists can:
- Remind specialists of what’s next. A church wins when elementary-age specialists hand the baton to middle school specialists at 5th or 6th grade graduation. It wins when high school grads tell stories of faith strengthened in college. And specialists need a voice saying, “Don’t forget about the next phase.”
- Become experts on scope and sequence. Generalists live in this arena. They salivate when it’s time to determine what Bible stories kids need to hear and what truths are important for preschoolers. They may not see the entire scope from birth to adulthood, and they don’t have to.
- Communicate strategy in a contextualized manner within their volunteers’ subculture. Generalists make the strategy understandable. They take the big picture and break it down into smaller steps for specialists, knowing that clear, common language pushes everyone in the same direction.
- Partner with parents of students. Generalists partner differently than specialists. They get to partner at the big events, the milestones, the transitions, holidays, etc. Parents certainly will look to a children’s ministry pastor for advice or direction on programming, but this is not their main role. Because their main target audience is the volunteer specialists they serve with, their main role is to equip specialists in the week-to-week partnership. Partnering with parents in the bigger moments happens, but that cannot be the only time parents feel the church’s influence.