Some of my good friends are long-term medical missionaries in Nepal. Every once in a while, I’ll get an e-mail from them saying, “We popsicle stick prayed for you this morning!”
Every day our friends – along with their three young children – pray for those who support them. To do this, they’ve written their supporters’ names on popsicle sticks, which one of their children then pulls from a cup. They cycle through these several times a year as a way of ensuring they’re routinely praying for those who are also praying for them.
Upon hearing them describe this ritual, I thought, “That’s brilliant! I can use that in my youth ministry!”
And indeed, I do, specifically with my student leadership team. In fact, as part of our team’s weekly prayer time, we use this popsicle stick prayer idea.
At our first meeting of the year, my team takes one of our youth ministry’s rosters and writes down everyone’s name on a popsicle stick. Since we do so before the year begins, we don’t yet know who will be active in our youth ministry. That’s intentional because it means we routinely pray for all the teens connected to our church’s ministry – regardless of how frequently or infrequently they actually attend our youth ministry. In other words, our prayers for people are not conditional upon their attendance.
After writing everyone’s name on a popsicle stick, we then put them in a bag or a cup. Each week, as part of our prayer time, each student leader draws a popsicle stick and prays aloud for the person whose name is written on it. In doing so, student leaders learn how to pray not just for their friends, but also for peers that they may not know well. I also encourage student leaders to continue praying for the person they drew throughout the week. Beyond that, I challenge them to let that person know we’ve been praying for them and ask them how we might continue to pray for them.
Once we’ve prayed for a teen, their popsicle stick is moved to a second container until we’ve prayed for everyone. After all the popsicle sticks are transferred to the second container, we repeat the cycle. In this way, our student leaders routinely pray for everyone in our youth ministry.
By making this prayer ritual a consistent part of our leadership team meetings, student leaders learn that one of their roles as a leader in our ministry is to consistently pray with and for others. Beyond that, this simple prayer ritual teaches teens to notice others. It also helps them create a culture of welcome within our ministry. You see, if a teen who’s not regular attender suddenly walks into our ministry, our student leaders already feel as though they have a relationship with them because they’ve been praying for them regularly. What’s more, by regularly praying for everyone connected to our youth ministry, I’ve watched God change the hearts of some of our student leaders, softening them toward others they’ve struggled through conflict with. Finally, this kind of consistent prayer ritual helps student leaders understand that prayer isn’t just an afterthought for our leadership team. It’s a critically important part of what we do together. In fact, it may even be the most important thing we do together.
Other posts in this series: