“So what are you doing this summer?” This may be the most common question around college campuses this time of year. Summer can be a valuable opportunity for growth and new experiences, and in ministry it can also provide an opportunity for students to contribute at a higher level.
The summer after my freshman year at Harding University, I had the opportunity to go on a 12-week mission trip to northeast Hungary. While we were there, we mainly taught English Bible lessons. It was my first opportunity to take a lead in teaching and the first time I had to answer faith questions on my own on a regular basis. As my comfort in this new arena increased, I made a discovery: I actually liked teaching the Bible. It was more than just an activity on a short-term mission trip, but the activity resonated deeper in my soul. It linked together what appeared to be unrelated interests and abilities. Had I not had a chance to teach and share about my faith on a deeper level, I have wondered how long it might have taken me to discover my desire to teach. Although I was volunteering within a youth ministry at an area congregation, the intensive exposure in an intercultural summer mission trip made a different kind of impression.
As I discussed in a previous article, “Teaching Women Effectively,” women prefer “concrete, experiential, visual, or narrative” approaches. When it comes to ministry, women learn best by doing. They like to get involved in their faith, and they effectively learn from that involvement. During the summer, there are several opportunities that can help women learn and grow.
When I did my dissertation study in 2014, the data indicated that women were affected positively by opportunities to serve in missions, community outreach, and local church activities. This seems to fit into the same paradigm, that women learn and grow best when involved. Women reported that camp spiritually influenced them at a rate three times that of worship service, church Bible class, and school Bible classes combined. The fact that camp is an experiential activity further reinforces this concept. Mission trips are also ranked highly as a source of encouragement and influence. It is common to see higher levels of female involvement on mission trips a well.
A growing number of churches have realized the importance of having summer youth internships staffed by both genders. This is fantastic! It benefits not only the interns, but also the teens and the church. The church benefits by hearing two different approaches to ministering to the teens. The female interns can provide valuable insight into what the girls are going through, and how to approach the girls effectively. It also provides additional opportunities for interaction, activities, and mentoring for the girls in the youth group. Along the way, the interns will get to try out new areas of ministry, discovering where God is using them and hopefully receiving affirmation of specific spiritual gifts. However, even more internship opportunities are needed. It is amazing to see the women who, after doing an internship, are on fire for their faith and for serving the church. In the past few years, I have seen several women develop a passion for ministry because of real-life ministry opportunities.
One of the benefits of experiential activities is that there are often more leadership opportunities. As a result, there are more opportunities for leadership development, especially within a flatter leadership structure. This benefits women who are trying to learn how they fit in and how they are gifted.
While these are just several ways that women can have opportunities to develop during the summer months, not everyone may have a chance to serve in an official capacity. This should not stop church leaders from finding ways to offer opportunities for growth. Summer often provides a different pace. A student may have greater access to mentors and an extra hour in her schedule to sit with him or her.
This summer, keep an eye out for at least one student to walk alongside and help get plugged into ministry opportunities. Summer is an optimal time for new growth experiences. If this summer is like previous ones, I expect to hear new ideas and excitement for ministry when some of my students return in the fall.