I am not trying to be old-fashioned or legalistic. I am also not here to take shots at or criticize anyone or his or her ministry, but would like to suggest a few things to think about. Here is why I don’t shut down for summer…
Temption: The final lesson in our ministry before we transitioned into summertime was about the battle grounds of summer temptation: people, places and patterns. Each of these is different than during the school year. May I suggest that our ministry needs to be the consistent pattern, place and people/person during summer? Our students are going to be hanging out with different people—or the same people—a lot more during the summer. They are going to be going different places and new places this summer, some of which they should not be visiting. Most of all, they are going to have new patterns of life during the summer: sleeping in, having more freedom, less scheduled time…All of these lead to spiritual crash and burn. We need to be the constant in our student’s lives.
Relationships: We all talk about relational ministry and read books about connecting better with students. Summer is the time of hanging out, and I can’t think of a better time for myself, my wife and my leaders to build strong relationships with our students. We are more casual in our ministry during the summer and change it up, but some of the reason behind that is to build connections and relationships. Those obviously happen during camp or on mission trips, but what about before and after that week or two you spend together?
Also, while students are on school breaks, you have more opportunities to do the quick call—to go grab lunch or just do something fun with a couple of students—the stuff that usually has to wait until after school or on the weekends to do; you have more freedom to do it during summer. Why not make summer a time every year when students look forward to getting to know you, your spouse and your leaders a bit better?
Spiritual Growth: Why do school teachers spend the first month of school reteaching and reviewing last year’s material? Because students haven’t thought about reading, history, math or science all summer. The same thing happens with our youth group kids. You put in nine strong months of consistent teaching and spiritually maturing students and then three months of nothing. Instead, maybe you could continue to practice and offer to keep them spiritually sharp. I am not saying teach new things, creating all kinds of super deep studies; but why not continue throughout the summer reviewing and practicing what you taught all year? You don’t have to be repeating lessons, but teaching things that continue to build on what you have spent the year focusing on. Also, create activities, events and service opportunities that practice what you have been preaching. What might happen is a spiritual growing spurt. You know how it is—the short little guy in May shows up in September 5 inches taller. The same could be true spiritually if we kept feeding him. If nothing else, you might end up with a bunch of kids who start the youth group year off ready to go, not spiritually stunted.
Calling: Biblically there is a time of rest, Sabbath, and getting away from the crowds. I am not arguing that at all, but summer is not always a great time to take vacation—at least not all three weeks in a row. I know some people who literally will disappear for two or three weeks straight and have zero or little contact with their churches or ministries. You tack that on to a week or two of camp and a mission trip; suddenly you haven’t been around the church and your ministry for a long time. Then add the fact you have shut down pretty much all of your ministries!?
We are called to work, serve, minister and love on students. It is a deep and personal calling. We need to take it very serious and look at in light of eternity. We only have so much time on earth to live out this calling on our lives. We also have to look at it in light of the three years of middle school. We literally could be adding on or missing out on nine months more (three months during three summers) of ministry time with the people we are called to serve. (Christ’s earthly ministry was only three years. Coincidence? I don’t think so.) Imagine Christ looking at His disciples after the first nine months of ministry and saying, “Well, these summers in Israel are really hot. Let’s take the summer off. See you guys in three months.”
We have a high and holy calling to a very special age group. Middle school and junior high summers honestly can make or break the lives our students. Why would we want to take a three-month break from our calling and the spiritual lives of students? Think back about your summers growing up when you were in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Those were the moments of life that created the memories and in many ways defined us as adults.