As a pastor, I have read a lot of books. In fact, my que is increasingly growing as new reads are recommended or a title catches my eye in a bookstore. While listening to a podcast recently, I heard about It’s Just A Phase by Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy. It was quickly added to my Amazon cart. When it arrived, instead of sitting in my “To Read” pile, it came right to my desk and I dove quickly into its pages. It is worth stating here at the beginning; this book should be one of the essential resources of all next-gen ministries.
As a student pastor, I engage in the lives and culture of 6-12th grade students. The wide chasm of life change, experiences, backgrounds and psychosocial development of a teenager is enough to make effective relational ministry difficult. As defined by the book, a phase is “a timeframe in a kid’s life when you can leverage distinctive opportunities to influence their future.” With each phase of life, starting from birth and ending at graduation, the book details where the student is and where the key access points are for your best success at leading and guiding them. By the way, one of the greatest achievements for this book is its ability to take “Barna level” research and mix it with easy-to-read, graphically appealing pages of content.
In books opening overview, there is a statistic given that “a parent has 936 weeks between a child’s birth and graduation.” This stat is the driving focus of the book and shows up often throughout the pages. What follows is a phase-by-phase look at some characteristics of kids from birth to graduation. The opening serves as a snapshot of the information to come and is well placed in order to align the reader to the rest of the books content.
The book uses three sections to dive into each phase of a child’s development as it relates to parenting, ministry, and interpersonal relationships. The three sections are Significant Relationships, Present Realities and Distinctive Opportunities.
The first focus of Section One is the unity of the church staff. It is easy to silo ourselves and do what we feel is best in “our area of ministry” without connecting to other leaders. The unity of staff is imperative because it creates an aligned pipeline of support for students. There are three stated benefits to staff unity: Magnified focus, synchronized effort, and increased momentum. The reality that church leaders have less time than parents to influence a student’s life is the reason why a significant relationship with parents must be maintained. This means keeping parents up-to-date, encouraging them, and assisting them in the spiritual formation of their children. Fact, kids will most likely grow up to live more like their parents than their youth leader. The small group leader is the last significant relationship of influence addressed in this section.
Section Two starts off with a hard-hitting statement: “Before you can lead someone where they need to go, you need to know where they are.” We often rush into leadership with what we think is best and cast a wide net hoping it hits everyone. The four chapters in this section dig into the mental, emotional and culturally relevant factors of each developmental phase of children. What do they need? What questions are they asking? What do they want? How are they motivated? All these essential questions and more are expanded on and processed in section two.
The ultimate goal of Section Three is the interaction of the gospel with each developmental phase. Faith should play an important role in decision making and worldview in each developmental phase. Each developmental phase presents a unique challenge as to how a student will best relate to God. An understanding of this challenge is important when planning a message, worship experience or small group discussion. In the author’s words, “What you do every week matters.”
This resource is packed full of information, charts, graphs and key phrases designed to assist with ministry to children living within the various “phases” of development. It also serves as a rallying cry for ministers to re-engage students according to their unique developmental stage. I will admit, this book convicted me of my lack of “phase” intentionality in ministry programming. As a result, it has led me to plan my next season of ministry with more thoughtfulness. It’s Just A Phase is a book created to help foster organization-wide unity and language around the topic of influencing students. And for those of you that may use the Lead Small book from Orange, this resource connects as another great reference for your small group leaders.
Scott Osborne is the Student Ministries Pastor at Renovation Church (www.ourrenovation.church)