I recently got an email from my cousin. He’s in ministry and was looking for some advice, guidance, insight, etc. I shared with him several things I have found in the past 15-16 years of student ministry. I thought I’d share them with you. You know, just for fun. Here’s part of what I shared with him…
I’ve been at this student ministry thing for quite a while, and I’ll just throw out 9 great nuggets I’ve learned along the way. This list is neither exhaustive nor in any particular order:
1. Nothing of eternal significance happens apart from prayer. Don’t do one thing without first consulting God’s Spirit and God’s Word. I’ve seen scores of youth pastors with scores of good ideas that turned out to NOT be God’s ideas.
2. Know what your purpose as a ministry is. This one is huge. Everyone and their mother will have an opinion on this. The purposes of our student ministry is 4-fold: Reach students, connect students with God and other students, grow them into Christ-like disciples, and teach them to serve God and others for life. (Reach, Connect, Grow, and Serve are our 4 buzz words) If an event/program/idea/etc. doesn’t serve one of those purposes, we don’t do it. Some people are going to want you to make a “safe place” for the Christian kids to come. Some people are going to want you to make a place that is inviting to the unsaved teens. (These two camps often spend a lot of time throwing rocks at each other.) What is the heart of the ministry to students? I believe that it must be both those things.
3. Clone yourself. My conviction is that before I leave earth, I need to make as many other me’s as possible. And that’s not about me, it’s about Jesus. I want to follow Paul’s words when he said, “Follow (imitate) me as I follow Christ.” This is the heart of discipleship. The Church’s non-negotiable Biblical mandate in Matt. 28:19 is to “make disciples”. No matter how flashy, hip, relevant, or slick your youth ministry is—if it’s not making disciples then you’re just cool and nothing more. And you’ll find that kids and parents get over “cool” pretty quick.
4. Realize that you’re not everyone’s cup of tea. And neither is Jesus. You can’t possibly reach every person. Care well for those who come to your ministry, those you come in contact with, and do what you can to welcome all in. But when the day is done, don’t lose sleep over those who aren’t coming. That’s their choice. Remember that Jesus said that you’ll be rejected because He was rejected first. So, don’t expect everyone to be crazy about you and the ministry. Learn what you can from critics, but don’t let them sway you from your purpose and mission.
5. Do the important before the urgent. Jesus praised Mary and corrected Martha. Martha was focused on the urgent. Mary was doing the important. Beware though: they often look the same and well-meaning people will try and convince you that the urgent IS the important. It’s usually not.
6. Feed your own soul. Be a part of corporate worship when you can. For me, that opportunity is rare. As a pastor, I don’t get to sit in a worship service with my wife and just enjoy worshipping the Lord with her. So, I’ve got to stay close to the Lord and get edification in other ways from others. There is personal Bible study as well as online tools, webinars, podcasts, etc. that can afford those in ministry the opportunity to get encouragement. Even with a small budget, a worthy event each year is something like Group’s Youth Worker Convention. Youth Specialties does one, too. There youth pastors can get fresh insights, encouragement, and spiritual rest. It’s usually well worth the cost.
7. No ministry is perfect. Avoid trying to duplicate what other churches are doing. God hasn’t called you to other churches. There are transferable principles all over the place, but don’t think “I’ll do what they’re doing” and expect the same results. It doesn’t usually work that way.
8. Seek excellence, not perfection. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do as unto the Lord.” And yet realize that being in ministry is very much like working on an assembly line. You MUST have the discipline to step away from the line and rest. Believe me, when you step back to the line, it’ll all still be there. You MUST rest. And not once a year, but once a week. Pastors and ministry leaders aren’t exempt from the commandment regarding the Sabbath; they should be leaders in showing people how to rest.
9. Know that you’re called. There will be days in ministry when you’d rather eat glass then go another inch. Knowing you’re called to ministry is the safety net that will catch you from crashing and burning.