Helping Students Embrace a Compassionate Lifestyle

Most youth pastors and leaders understand the call to foster compassionate hearts in students. After all, we serve a compassionate God, one who has shown unwavering concern for those in the margins—the widow, the poor, the immigrant, and the disabled. Throughout the biblical narrative, we see God’s compassion on display, ultimately finding full expression in the life and work of Jesus Christ as he modeled compassionate love for his followers. No one needs convincing that compassion is important, if not essential, to the Christian life. Yet, how do we help our students move beyond embracing the concept of compassion in order to grab hold of authentic, compassionate love empowered by the Holy Spirit?

Mission trips and mid-week service projects still remain positive ways to expose students to the needs of people. However, it is important to avoid relating compassion to an “event” or specific activity that occurs every once in a while.

Compassion is a lifestyle, a constant awareness of the needs of others.

Service projects may assist in developing this awareness, but they will most likely fall short if not accompanied by a compassionate culture in your youth ministry. So how can youth pastors and leaders develop a compassionate culture in their ministry?

One place to start may be learning how young people today naturally approach compassionate ministry. How do younger generations differ from their parents and grandparents when it comes to recognizing and fulfilling the needs of others? What is the heartbeat of students? Here are five characteristics that shape the generation you minister to:

1. Community Driven: Today’s young people tend to not engage in compassionate ministry as individuals. Instead, they long for a community or team in which they can work alongside others to accomplish something bigger than themselves. Try to find areas to invest in that will bring students together instead of dividing them up to accomplish several smaller tasks.

2. Fully Engaged: The generation you minister is rarely content to invest in someone else’s project or area of passion. This isn’t selfish; it just means that young people want to be fully engaged in all aspects of the ministry including discussion, planning, and preparation. You increase student’s passion and interest when you bring them along and give them ownership of the work you are doing.

3. Time/Talent > Finances: It is great and essential for students to learn what it feels like to give their own financial resources to a cause. However, most young people have much more to offer in the form of time/talent than they do finances. Perhaps instead of basing your compassionate ministry exclusively on fundraising or giving, balance it by challenging students to find creative ways to use their God-given time and talents to reach out to others.

4. Global Perspective: Today’s young people have grown up in a connected world. Students are more aware of the issues plaguing our world today than ever before. With this said, it is unrealistic to expect local churches to create multiple first-hand global experiences for students. However, don’t shy away from having open discussions about issues such as the refugee crisis, human trafficking, or poverty. Students will appreciate your willingness to hear what they have to say.

5. Out With Stagnant: There are few things worse for younger generations than investing in things that don’t actually make a difference. Avoid throwing together a work project just because you need something to fill up a Wednesday night. The heartbeat of the students you minister to is to be a part of real, positive change. Always communicate why what you’re investing in matters and don’t forget to celebrate wins along the way.

Fostering compassionate hearts in the students you minister to is not easy work. There is no quick and easy formula. However, by modeling compassionate love and paying attention to the unique ways that younger generations approach compassionate ministry, you can create space for students to become more consistently aware of the needs of others.

In the process, you are engaging in one of the most faithful forms of discipleship imaginable.

Young people already have a desire and passion to impact the world with the love of Christ. They just might need someone to encourage and empower them along the way.

How are you helping your students embrace a compassionate lifestyle?

Matt Selden
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