We commissioned another class of graduates this weekend. We took a moment to pause and recognize the students who are making a significant jump into the next phase of their lives in a few short weeks or months. Another graduate Sunday and another class of students that we got to share moments and memories with.  But this year we decided to do something a bit different.

See, normally, we would bring the seniors up, say a few words about how awesome they are, then pass a mic down the line so they could introduce themselves and it had the feeling of an award ceremony, honestly.

In Acts 13:1-3, Barnabas and Saul are getting prepared to set off for their journey and they are flanked by some of the leaders of the church and they were fasting and praying and the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the “work to which I have called them.” So, they laid their hands on them and send them off.

I was so moved by this moment in the life of Barnabas and Saul because, to me, this represents everything these students are taking on in the next phase of their life: the opportunity to discover more of the gospel for themselves and for those they would be sent to seek. It literally is the commencement moment for Barnabas and Saul and they laid hands to commission them, why would we not do that for students?

I say all that to say this: We did something different and not what “we have always done.” As a matter of fact, I might go so far as to say that we did something intentional that was otherwise pretty unintentional. Because of this, I wanted to share three things for making change to keep in mind:

  1. Change is more easily accepted when it is championed by vision. People have lots of opinions on change. What remains consistent is that if they know why they are making the change and the reason for that change, they can generally stomach anything. In instituting this relatively insignificant change, I cited the passage, relayed its purpose, and invited the congregation to do the same. So, when your in the process of making change, constantly and consistently share the vision for the change and you will have all the grease you need to help move the ball down the road.
  2. Little changes can help make a bigger change a reality. What I didn’t tell you is what we were doing for grad recognition in the years prior to this year’s moment. I won’t get into the nitty gritty, but three years ago, we had small group leaders start praying over the students, two years ago we moved to giving them Bibles and letters from the church to encourage and equip them, last year we moved a “charge” from me to a video from the senior pastor (I also preached for that Sunday.), and this year, the aim was to get the congregation more involved. Those seem like insignificant changes, but that’s because we aren’t finished yet when it comes to this element of our ministry. Getting the congregation involved more was this year’s aim and we accomplished it. I can’t wait till they expect it next year!
  3. Not everyone will love the changes and that’s ok, I hope. See, nobody includes that last part. But there is no silver bullet for making your change. To calm your people-pleasing appetites, many articles on change tell you that people not liking it is ok. Sometimes they even suggest that it is a good thing! But the reality is that some of the things that you want to change, just aren’t that great. One thing we had done in this moment was to give students a Starbucks gift card, in light of a Bible and other things, and told them to go get mentored. Some people thought it was great. My boss didn’t. Both of them. So, we went back to getting Bibles embossed with names on them. Guess what – that’s ok too. I wasn’t overjoyed because I’m an eight on the enneagram and don’t like to be controlled, but ultimately it was clear that my leadership wanted to give our students a personalized copy of the word of God. Here’s my coaching: Listen to the right people and tune out the wrong people; but make sure you know who the right people are. Ignoring critique isn’t helpful if it’s going to actually help you.

Student Ministry is constantly changing. We have to innovate so that we can better lead students into a fully discipled relationship with Jesus. Don’t be afraid of change. But be smart about it.

BIO: Geoff Cocanower is a husband, a son, and the Associate Pastor of Student Ministries at Hope Missionary Church in Bluffton, IN where he leads the team of adults who minister to high school students as well as young adults. Interesting fact about Geoff is that he is a high school football and volleyball referee in his spare time and is a legacy member and loves all things DYM.