The news alert on your phone that you never hope to receive is one that implies your children are in danger.
Seemingly, what once was considered to be a haven of education and nurturing, now becomes the focal point of debate regarding the reform needed for school safety. Recent tragedies remind us of the problem of evil and the volatility of shifting values in our culture. While both sides of the proverbial aisle debate the balance of constitutional rights and the priority of safety, the church must choose if it will continue to maintain a reactive posture or commit to being proactive.
This leads us to a key question: How can the church be proactive in student ministry as we respond to the recent tragedy of yet another school shooting?
The purpose of this is not to wade into the murky waters of gun control, arming teachers, or mental health concerns. While all of those topics are important and should be discussed in a reactionary way, I am under the impression that true change can occur by much more proactive means. Pain is at the root of every school shooting.
While it is discussed under the guise of mental health reform, the reality is that hurting people hurt others. The church must evaluate its ministry to the hurting. Whether it is the hurting who consider hurting others, or it is the grieving who have been hurt, the church holds the keys to hope and help.
I hypothesize that the church’s footprint of ministry on the school campus can impact the mental, social, and spiritual stability of our students. I don’t disregard extenuating circumstances, nor do I assume to know all the background of those who walk onto a school campus with the intent to harm. What I do know is that the Gospel has the power to change and that it is a message of hope for those who are hurting.
While it has been increasingly difficult to proclaim Jesus on public school campuses, this does not validate a helpless position of the church. The truth is that the church has the answer for hope, change, reform, and reconciliation. Consider three ideas for proactive engagement on our school campuses that could have a bearing on the future prevention of tragedies on our school campuses.
James 5:16 reminds us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Imagine if the churches in a community committed to pray often and regularly for the students and administrators who walk the halls of our schools. We often participate in prayer vigils to mourn the loss after a tragedy. What if we committed to pray proactively for God to open doors to serve those who need hope? What if we prayed for God to empower student missionaries to boldly share the hope of Jesus to their peers. What if we prayed for teachers to share love and hope to those students who show signs of mental health disorders? What if we prayed for Almighty God to move on our school campuses? What if we expected God to do what only God could do?
Prayer changes things. This is an old saying that has never been truer, but we cannot passively pray. We must pray urgently and often.
Many churches choose to prayer walk their school campus at the beginning of a school year. This is a wonderful and powerful idea, but sadly this is often the only time a church may be present on, or near, a school campus.
It is mission critical that a church explore ways to legitimately serve their local schools. Not only does this meet real school needs, but it also creates a presence for the school to build relationships. Parachurch organizations, like Fellowship of Christian Athletes, serve as an invaluable vehicle for churches to support and develop a campus presence. Other ideas include serving as a formal partner in education, volunteering to read to students, tutoring programs, booster club volunteering, and more.
Simply stated, every school in our community has real needs and would welcome your help.
A church’s presence on a campus will open doors in time to present the Gospel. Whether formally or informally, the service and ministry a church provides to a school community will allow those outside the church to witness the sincere love of the Gospel and see it in action. Perhaps this will break down barriers of division and create bridges to minister to the hurting.
Hypothetically, a student who shows signs of mental and social instability may feel the power of your prayer and receive the love shown by your campus presence. This proactive ministry could make a difference in their future.
Romans 10:14-15 gives us a clear reminder, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” We must develop and maintain a commitment to preach the Good News on our school campuses. This preaching will not be from a pulpit but will be in our presence to serve.
All the prayer and presence a church can provide does not exempt us from the problem of evil, nor will it eliminate future threats on our school campus. The reality of sin means that the church should begin preparing for how it will respond when the next tragedy occurs.
Ideally, the presence of a Gospel-centered campus ministry will open doors to respond in a time of need. Grief counseling, prayer vigils, and ministering to hurting families will undoubtedly be needed.
The question remains surrounding the churches’ preparedness to respond. What ministry organization can begin now in a local fellowship so that a church is equipped to respond quickly to crisis?
How can the church be proactive in student ministry as we respond to the recent tragedy of yet another school shooting? If we are committed to reach the next generation, we must see the importance of prayer, campus ministry presence, and preparation for response.
I can’t help but wonder the possible altering of history had those who willingly chose to walk on a school campus with the intent to harm had been shown the love of God and given the opportunity to experience His grace. If the church would choose to be proactive in its Gospel ministry the future can be much brighter.
I don’t know when the next school shooting will break the news, but I do know that God does not want us to live in fear. I do know that the people of God have the hope of the Gospel that can heal hurts.