I met Jason Raitz several years ago through some mutual connections at my local church. Jason has served in a variety of ministry contexts, most recently beginning a new organization called Live Now, which serves both churches through speaking and schools through Live Now Leadership, an initiative to stop bullying. In Jason's work in student ministry, he has spent a significant amount of time serving with middle school students and one of his biggest passions in ministry is speaking to students. Because of his passion for junior high ministry and for preaching, I really wanted to hear some of his thoughts on both.
How has being the father of a middle school student changed the way that you look at middle school ministry?
Wow, it's changed everything! When I first started out in youth ministry almost 17 years ago, I thought parents were the enemy. I was very prideful and arrogant when it comes to parents. I really thought I had all the answers; isn't that funn? About 3 years into being a youth pastor, that all changed and I began to see my relationship with them as being very important. This is especially true in middle school ministry. If a parent knows what's goin on and they trust you, their very likely to bring their son or daughter. Now being the dad of a 6th grader, it has changed everything. I view student ministry much differently. My hope is that the student ministries will be less about programs and the show and more about small groups and building into families.
I've heard it said, "If you can speak to middle school students, you can speak to anyone." Do you agree with that statement?
Absolutely! I think it's true because with middle school students you have to be extremely clear. When a student walks away from the message you just taught, can they tell someone what it was about? That's why it is so important to be clear and focused on your big idea. But, on the other side, I am tired of hearing adults say things like... "I just taught middle school kids and I made it out alive." I just don't understand that. Middle school students are not a different species; they can be treated like normal people.
You do a lot of speaking for middle school students, what do you do to improve your craft?
The craft of speaking is my greatest passion in life. It has been since I gave my first message to a basement of neighborhood friends when I was 10. Here are some of the ways that I work on it. I am constantly reading; moving from book to book, to article to webpost. Communicators need to be readers. I spend a lot of time with people. Communicators need to hear people's hearts. I spen time alone with God; this is huge for me. I go on a lot of prayer walks and spend time in the Bible. I talk through my messages all the time, whether in my head or out loud to my wife, kids, or friends. Lastly, I watch myself on video; this is really tough, but it helps the most.
Have you had any embarassing moments on stage speaking that you'd be willing to share?
Where to start? I've done all the easy stuff: had my zipper down, knocked over my stand, dropped my Bible, spit on the front row. I think one of the most embarassing came when I was speaking on the Jr. High Believe tour. There were 2500 students in the room and I missed a crucial part of the production meeting. I was given specific details for how to lead an experience at the end of my message and I missed it. I actually told 2500 students to come up on stage if they wanted to make a commitment. It was awesome, funny, and very bad all at once.
You've just start this new organization Live Now. What's it all about?
There are two sides to Live Now. One is Live Now and it's my speaking ministry to the Church. I have absolutely loved speaking to students all over the country and Live Now is my organization that I do that through. The other side is Live Now Leadership. LNL is a non-profit organization that I started to help partner with schools to tackle bullying. I work with classrooms and speak at assemblies teaching students how they can live a great story with their lives.