Manners: A vital part of our student ministry curriculum

man-opening-door-for-lady-tm One of the most important aspects to a balanced and thriving student ministry is having an intentional scope and sequence to your curriculum.  We must be intentional with what we teach and to use the limited amount of time we have with our students well.  And while many of you are thoughtful about your teaching and are biblically deep, contextually astute, and clever as all get out, there might be one significant area that gets left out.

I am sure that you would agree that our culture is getting more and more coarse.  Students are increasingly self absorbed and rude.  Maybe the truth is that you don't even realize it anymore or have simply died to it.  Maybe you think that you will lose street cred if you push back against their entitlement mentality.  Or maybe you are satisfied that you can at last get them to say grace when you are all together for a meal.

As students become more and more isolated, they have fewer and fewer places in their lives where they actually have to consider others.  Their music choices, their movie choices, their food choices are all individualized.  Whatever they want whenever they want it is their instinct and highest value.  If at any time a student is done paying attention in a group, they simply need to plug in their ear buds, check facebook, and check out.

Why manners are important:

Forever manners have been the social contract used to teach people how to interact in society.  Manners are the habits that remind us that the world world doesn't revolve around us.  Please and thank you are the words we use to realize that when we take things or use things they were first someone else's to begin with.  Ladies first, holding the door for others, or allowing those older then you to sleep on the couch when on a youth group road trip are ways to graciously put others needs above our own and to remember that our needs and desires are not the utmost of importance.  Eye contact and follow up questions affirm and validate others and remind us that our view is not the one and only.

Everyone else has seem to let manners slide and our culture validates and lifts up the core value of "getting yours."  But this should not be the case.  Manners are of utmost importance and actually part of our spiritual formation.  Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not  looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of others."

We love the concept of loving others.  We focus on loving the poor for a weekend urban mission trip, or loving others by, well actually, we don't have any other examples.  One main way that we actually put into practice loving others and considering others above ourselves is by implementing old skool manners.  And if we don't teach them, no one will.

Here are some of the manners that we are trying instilling in our students:

  1. No ear buds! (at church, youth group, trips, cars, ever!)
  2. Ladies first at meals.
  3. Being respectful of other's perspectives and ideas.
  4. Asking specific follow up questions. 
  5. Everyone participating in everything whether they like it or not.
  6. Sharing food, gum, mints, or whatever is opened in mixed company.
  7. Inviting others into activities and social gatherings (or not talking about them when in mixed company)
  8. Saying please and thank you to adult leaders and hosts for activities.
  9. Eye contact and nodding heads when others are talking.
  10. No cell phones during worship, lesson, and small groups.
  11. Sharing responsibility for cooking and cleaning on trips. 
  12. Carrying each others luggage when packing and unpacking for trips. 

For whatever coolness you think you might lose by constantly nagging your students to be respectful, to engage, to share, and to be kind, will pay dividends as the entire culture of your student ministry actually begins to reflect the 2nd commandment of Jesus.

Manners are the simplest and most applicable way for students to apply what they are learning in the real world.  So as you intentionally plan out your curriculum, calendar your events, and plan your activities, don't forget about the never ending teachable moments of instilling manners into your students.  It might be the single most applicable take away they may have from your ministry.