As a youth worker, I try to spend a regular amount of time eating lunch on school campuses. Youth workers either do this, or they don’t do this, and there are a number of reasons why.
I know a few guys who won’t step foot on a school campus and they have their reasons, most of them weak, some of them forced. (For example, when I lived in St. Louis not many schools would even allow me to come).
I know other guys who will eat on campus with students, but that can look very different:
- You might see the youth worker that brings a volunteer with him and both are dressed in the same “our youth ministry” t-shirt with a stack of invite cards to their next event
- You might see the youth worker that sits on the stage or stands at the door and as his kids notice him they’ll move towards him and soon the gathering is very noticeable
- You might the youth worker at one table, and then another, and then another, and then…
Campus lunch can viewed a lot of different ways, and most views are well-intentioned. For me, I go to a school each week for one reason: to communicate to my kids that I care about their world, too. If I expect them to come to the church (my world) and hear what I have to say, it makes sense that I step on campus (their world) and see what’s going on beyond our programs. I want them to know their world is important to me so they’ll understand why my world should be important to them.
Most of the campuses at which we have students are very different. One makes me fill out reams of paperwork just to get in the front office. Another gives me a visitor sticker and thanks me for coming. One campus has a fight every lunch period, every day. In another I’ll get the stare-down trying to figure out if I’m the new kid or someone’s dad.
Every campus has a different culture. And to the population at large, the youth room in a church is a different culture. So for me to be on campus, I think it helps say, “You know I don’t belong here, but I came anyway because it’s worth it.” That can translate to the faithful student, the fringe student, or the friend of a student who comes into my ministry area and feels the same way.
So what about you? What’s your take on campus lunch contact work?
Sean Kahlich is the Mid-High Youth Minister at The Kirk of the Hills – check out his youth ministry blog called Awaiting Epiteleo.