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The Curtain Call

The Curtain Call

I love the theater.

I’ve always enjoyed the experience of the theater; dressing up, going out on the town with my wife, enjoying a nice meal at a fancy restaurant, and then capping the night off by watching a great production. There’s nothing quite like it.

A few years ago, my wife and I were able to attend the final showing of West Side Story at the Fulton Theatre here in Lancaster, PA.  It had been an amazing run for the show, one of the best in the Fulton’s history.  The cast was fantastic, the sets were out of this world, and the quality was practically Broadway.  Being the last night of the production, the show ended by honoring the entire cast and crew. After a standing ovation, many flowers and two curtain calls, the cheers finally came to an end.

It was obvious that this ovation was more than a polite sign of appreciation, this was a celebration; an expression of deep gratitude for everything and everyone, not just the show on the stage. I remember thinking, “Wow, the crowd and the Fulton execs really knew how to honor their people and bring a great season to an end.”  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Forgetting the Curtain Call

In the same way that a theater season draws to an end, our student ministry year often draws to an end around this time of year. We wrap up the small group programs and celebrate the Seniors as in the back of our minds we’re already gearing up for a summer filled with events, trips, and special activities.

But what about the crew and cast?

I began to ask myself the question, “How well do we honor our leaders in student ministry? How well do we say, ‘Thank You!’ at the end of a busy year?” If your experience is anything like mine, sometimes it feels as if the student ministry just simply ends.  No fan fair, no flowers, no curtain call, just simply “we’re done! …Oh, and by the way, come back next year.”

Why is it that the theater does such a good job of honoring its people, but the church often fails to even acknowledge the vital people who throughout the year were the ones making it happen?

4 Ways to Show Honor to Your Volunteers

1. Celebrate the past year.

Take time to reflect over your past ministry season and celebrate the victories both big and small. This could be done in a leaders meeting or in your main student ministry setting involving the students as well as leaders.  Ask the question, “Where did God show up?”  In a worshipful manner, be present, take note of how God showed up through relationships, words, special acts, even a well-timed hug.  Provide opportunity for students and leaders alike to share as a community or with each other.   Provide the time to slow, take note of how God is working, and allow the community to bless each other.

2. Don’t overlook a simple gesture.

Conveying honor and value is usually not flashy.  Often a well-timed phone call for encouragement will have more impact than a big leaders recognition service in front of the whole church.  Think through the uniqueness of each of your leaders and pinpoint a way you could honor them through simplicity.

3. Give them rest with no strings attached.

When you shift gears for the semester, create space for your volunteers to take a real Sabbatical. Too often we release our leaders with a laundry list of what we would like them to still do throughout their “time off.” (i.e. summer missions trip, camp, student parties, or even just one more planning meeting)   It’s important to remember that a leader who is fresh, well rested, and has had time to tend intimately to their own soul will have far more to offer to you and the broader ministry.

4. Lead them well into rest.

Don’t treat leaders like a commodity by simply consuming them and their resources.  Remember they are created in the image of God, with unique gifts,     talents, and their own stories.  Be a good steward of the gifts God has given you in your leaders.

How your year ends is usually a reflection on how well you honored your people throughout the ministry year.  If your year ends with a mass exodus of volunteers, chances are that they struggled to feel supported, connected, and valued throughout the year. Make sure that “ending well” is not all you have. Your value and care for your people should be a consistent value felt throughout the whole of the ministry year.

Your people are your curriculum.  Too often we only think of curriculum as the catching message series we are teaching from the front of the room.  However, the reality is that in ten years when you run into one of your now adult students, they will have no memories of any message series ever taught, but rather will remember the relationships with leaders who cared for them.  Your leaders are the embodiment of your curriculum.

Some Quick Ideas

  • Hand write a note of encouragement…. no e-mails or texts
  • Be quick to speak words of honor and value about your leaders in front of the church
  • Where appropriate, take a leader out for coffee or breakfast to honor their work
  • Have students from the ministry write notes of encouragement to your leaders
  • Provide a special night in your programming, where you reflect on the past ministry season and honor those involved
  • If the budget allows, provide a small gift for recognition (example…  key book, dining card, something of interest to that specific leader)
  • Have a student give a testimony in front of the church in regards to the importance of discipleship and honoring a specific leader
  • When traveling on a missions trip this summer, buy extra souvenirs and give them as special gifts to your leaders when you return

Remember, the curtain is about to fall.  The stage has been set.  Your most important resource is your team.  They are the very embodiment of this gospel message.  How will you honor your leaders this spring as your student ministry takes a bow?

Rick Rhoads
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Rick is the Director of the Student Ministry Majors at Lancaster Bible College. He has served as an Assistant Professor in Student Ministry at LBC for the past 7 years. Over the past 18 years, he has served in various Student Ministry roles at Lebanon Valley YFC, LCBC, Calvary Bible Church, and Riverbend Community Church. Rick, his wife Naomi, and their two children Grace and Eli live East Petersburg, PA.