I’ve recently been in several conversations and been swimming in my own thoughts about what I believe student ministry should be at its core. There are some differing views on this I’m sure, but after 22 years of full time student ministry (there is no other type, in fact) I’ve developed a conviction and now more than ever am committed to carrying it out.
We’re in the hiring season for our student ministry staff. Looking for that perfect fit of a new teammate that would join in what God is doing here in and through teenagers. I’ve spoken with several people and in many of those conversations have communicated my “philosophy” on effective student ministry. I’d invite you to share your thoughts–whatever they are–in the comment section below.
I grew up in Cape May New Jersey and graduated from Lower Cape May Regional High School in June of 1991. The school building was laid out with one main corridor that connected 4 separate halls, all running perpendicular to the main corridor. Think capital “E” with an extra horizontal line. But on those rare occasions when a fight would break out in any of those hallways, it would be milliseconds before news had spread to all the other hallways and if you were so inclined, you’d quickly make your way to said fight for some between-class entertainment. It always astounded me how quickly a crowd could gather. We are, by nature, spectators. We love the spectacle. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, am I right?
But simply because a crowd had formed in the hallway didn’t mean that anything good was happening. So I have long since let go of the notion that successful ministry is always equivalent to a big crowd. Should we be growing spiritually? Of course. Does that equal growing numerically? Sure it does. But when we go for the second and skip the first, we’re no different than the hallway brawl of my high school days. Over as quickly as it begins.
No, I’ve developed a different angle and if you’ll tolerate the analogy, I think that the better view of student ministry views each teen moving along toward graduation as if they were on a conveyor belt that can’t be turned off. As pastors, we have a limited amount of time for deep impact and during that time, much like a worker on an assembly line, we need to see to it that certain things are “bolted on” and that when that student reaches the end of their time in middle school and high school; at the end of that conveyor belt, we understand that they will be set on a launch pad and lift off into what God has next for them. So, I don’t view my ministry as supplying students with spectacles to look at or events to fill their calendar during their 7 year belt ride. Rather, I am convicted that God helping us, we are to do all we can through the power God gives us to see that these rockets are ready when their countdown reaches zero.
When a student walks that platform, takes that diploma and wraps up their high school career, I, along with others on my team, want to have…
- …shown them God’s love; without bias, without judgment, without condemnation, without condition. I would never want to have spoken what I have not lived.
- …given them an atmosphere of acceptance and affection. It is when we know we are loved and accepted as we are, where we are that we are no longer preoccupied with fake, shallow living. We are set free to love others as God loves us.
- …helped in teaching them the “hand-in-hand with Jesus” life. Not religion and its cumbersome activities that lead nowhere, but the daily life of walking with the Savior and reveling in knowing that He is for them, in them, and working through them.
- …equipped them to discover THAT God is, WHO God is, who THEY are in Christ, HOW God has gifted them, and WHAT God is leading them to be and do.
- …shown and shared with them how to pray, how to love, how to share their story, how to invite someone to Jesus, and how to hear and follow God’s leading.
(I recognize this is a minuscule thumbnail of a much larger conversation.)
What about you? What would you add to this list? What do you think is important to share/show before students reach the launch pad?