My Thoughts on Student Ministry – Part 1

I’ve been thinking lately. I know, surprise! I am sure it has been stated in a previous post, but I am now halfway into my fourth year in ministry. A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I am a student pastor and have only written at most 2 blog posts on student ministry. I figured it was time to write another.

When I first entered into student ministry on New Years Day 2013, I admit (now) my priorities in youth ministry were so out of line it wasn’t even funny (and still isn’t). I still think about my early days in student ministry and wonder how I had a job for such a long period of time! It seems funny, and I laugh even as I type. But I also sit here in embarrassment to write this blog. The purpose of this blog is to almost confess my own selfishness and pride in my early student ministry days (I also understand that I am still relatively young in ministry and have a long way to go). But let’s get to the point.

In his book, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, Doug Fields communicates a truth that changed the way I viewed my role as a student pastor. He says,

“The answer is not programs, but becoming the right person for youth ministry.” 

He also says our mission as student pastors is not what we need to do, but who we need to be. For the first 2-3 years of my ministry, I tried every program possible to entertain students. Let me just address this elephant in the room per se: student ministry ≠ entertainment. Al Mohler said it best regarding entertainment in student ministry. He said,

“If you entertain youth in church, rather than teaching them, don’t be surprised that you lose them when the entertainment no longer appeals.”

I am using these quotes as a testimony to who I was for the first couple of years in student ministry. Since then, I have realized that what Mohler said was imperative to how I viewed student ministry. I have even quoted guys like Doug Fields and Brian Cosby who have written books on this issue and how correct they were, and still did the opposite of what they were trying to convey! How stupid do you have to be to act so hypocritically? I was the student pastor reading books such as Giving Up Gimmicks and Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and not changing anything about myself or the student ministry I was entrusted with leading.

Then I came upon a book that I’ve had in my office since I worked at Randall House Publications/D6 Family; Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ by Richard Ross. This book has been a tool God has used to reform my philosophy of student ministry. The Lord has used this manuscript from Dr. Ross to change me and how I structure our student ministry at our church. I try my best to read at least parts of a book throughout a weekly routine in my office. It is a difficult task, especially since I have become somewhat of a bi-vocational student pastor. However, when I picked up this book about a month ago, I read the first 7 chapters in one afternoon. It is that rich of material and substance. I could write an entire blog post on quotes from this book. But the theme of the book is to awaken not just students, but your entire church congregation to Christ’s preeminence in our lives. Here are just a few quotes from the first several chapters:

  • “Where Christ reigns, there is hope.”

  • “Many Christians need to meet God’s Son again.” <- Woah!

  • “Biblical hope is not an adverb; it is a person.” 

  • “Student ministry that does not matter for a lifetime, does not matter much.” 

  • “What you design, others will allow you to make happen. What others design, they will join you in preparing.”

  • “An awakening to Christ without prayer will never happen.”

  • “Prayer will not saturate the student ministry until it saturates the student minister.” 

  • “Fellowship is only negative when it is out of balance and/or is without purpose.”

  • “Flocks follow the example of their shepherd.” <– Woah again!

As you can see, Ross’ point is to express the importance of Christ being preeminent in every aspect of our life and ministry (Col.1:18).

But what does this have to do with me as a student pastor? How did I change what I was doing? Well, I am glad you asked! For the first three years of my student ministry endeavors, I have been focused on students. I have been focused on what they wanted, why they wanted what they did, and how they wanted to attain what they wanted. I took entertaining trips, had kids over almost every weekend at my house for games, played games in my Wednesday night worship services, and much more to entertain students. My focus was on the wrong thing. Of course, the supreme focus of your life and ministry should be Christ. Once He is preeminent in your life and student ministry, your first priority is parents. Ross says again,

“Teenagers resemble the spiritual lives of their parents.”

If what Ross says is true, then our primary goal should be to train our parents to be committed disciples and disciplers for their family. When parents achieve this goal, it will overflow into their children’s lives. If you will look above at the list of quotes to the one that is bold, you will notice it is saying that if your students don’t take something away from your student ministry for a lifetime, you are operating a student ministry that does not matter much at all. Of course, let me say that events and programs that are “just for fun” do have a place in student ministry, but they should never take the place of what we are called to do; make disciples of all nations. If your activities outweigh your desire to see students know Christ, your priorities are out of whack.

I am in no way a veteran student pastor. NO WAY, whatsoever! But I do want to be the best I can be and do the best I can do to help students see who Christ is in all of His glory. I want students to be able to tell others of grace and mercy and love that Christ gives them on a daily basis. I want students to be able to present the Gospel with clarity to others and reach their community for Christ. I want students to be able to lead others through the repentance process and introduce others to the risen Christ who has come to have a relationship with His creation. I want students to be spiritual leaders in their home. I want students to influence the way my prayer life should be. I want students to be the leaders in our churches.

None of this can happen if I, as a student pastor, have not awakened first to the supremacy of Christ in my own life.

 

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