How to Minister to Students
By Diego Mota, Student and Next Generation Pastor at Duncanville’s First Baptist Church
“I’m convinced that Jesus was a youth leader.”¹ This is how Greg Stier opened his chapter on Youth Ministry in the 21st Century (Youth, Family, and Culture): Five Views, edited by Chap Clark. Before you stop reading and prepare to rage against this humble youth minister for quoting such a controversial statement, think about it for a minute. Jesus spent his days surrounded by a group of messy, odd, and bad-smelling people who were filled with questions and presented them with a purpose way beyond their very lives. If this is not a great description of every youth ministry in the world, I honestly don’t know what I’m doing with my life.
The Theology, Psychology, and structure of Youth Ministry have been built, debated, debunked, denied, rebuilt, reaffirmed, and advocated by more talented minds than mine. A vast bibliography is dedicated to discussing these topics, exploring every color of the methodological spectrum to make ministering to students a more adequate endeavor, from the highly academic to the uber-ludic, and including everything in between. I highly recommend the book aforementioned, which features the views of five extraordinary men of God: Greg Stier, Chap Clark, Brian Cosby, Ron Hunter, and Fernando Arzola. In each chapter, we are exposed to one of the authors’ views of Youth Ministry while the others discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Certainly a must-read. Other favorites are Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, by Doug Fields; The Art of Forming Young Disciples, by Everett Fritz; Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries; and Youth Ministry That Lasts a Lifetime, by the one and only Dr. Richard Ross.
Regardless of the methodology you might choose, the truth holds that our youth need Christ-like leaders. Pardon my clichè, but we are living in the age of information. In a sea of destructive, shallow, and self-interested influencers filling their minds with ephemeral nonsense, the few hours we get to spend with them every week need to be Bible-saturated. There is no time to waste with things that don’t matter as their very relationship with God is at stake.
Youth Ministry is not a path into a “higher position”
Since our responsibility is as heavy as it has always been, it is imperative to demolish the idea that serving as a student pastor is a step towards becoming a senior pastor, a family pastor, or whatever position it might be. Ministering to students is not an internship position. Communities that treat it as a “second level” position are doomed to see their youth fading away. Ministers that see it as such should never be entrusted to walk with sons and daughters of the Almighty God, especially in their formative years. They matter too much. See this ministry as it is: a specific, demanding, challenging, and absolutely irreplaceable chance to shape young lives into true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Youth Ministry is not an end in itself
Integrating the students with the other departments or ministries of the church builds a sense of belonging that might prevent students from “graduating from church” when they go to college. This is true for every single ministry in our churches. We are not silos in a big field – we are one church family that benefits from the strengths of all generations involved. Encouraging interactions between teenagers and their “spiritual grandparents” is character-building. Giving them a platform to serve the body is life-changing. Watching them minister to the little ones, passing along what they have been learning, is heart-warming. Help them be the Church in your church and they will not turn their backs on it.
Earn the right to be heard
Titles do not mean authority anymore. Teenagers have a tendency to follow legitimacy and purpose. Nothing is more legitimate and purposeful than the message we are called to share with them! Demonstrate interest in their lives, show them you care about them and that you will never dismiss their struggles. Once you have gained their trust, conquering the right to be heard, their unwavering loyalty will allow you to be a godly influence over them.
Mind your own (spiritual) business
Finally, the most obvious and taken-for-granted aspect of all, the spiritual disciplines. An easy mistake in every Christian leader’s journey is to pay less attention to his or her own devotional life and prayer life. We are too busy to meditate. There’s no time for solitude. Fasting is only possible when hours of sleep are its object. Leadership demands spiritual health. Make it a priority to seek God first.
Don’t worry: it’s not about you
It is fair to say that ministering to students is overwhelming but you do not have to do it alone. It is really not about you and what you can do, which is relieving at the very least. Partner with the families! Parents and grandparents will (most of the time) be overjoyed when you reach out to them and show genuine love for their students. Most importantly, God has chosen you to make disciple-makers out of this group of messy, odd, and bad-smelling people (of whom you are the foremost, to use the words of 1 Timothy 1:15). You don’t have to know it all, nor do you need to have it all figured out. Jesus gave us a promise in Matthew 28:19-20: He’s with us as we go making disciples, until the end.
Someone told me once that every calling is the answer to someone else’s prayer. God called you to serve where you are because someone prayed for you to be there. God knows all of your frailties and uncertainties, yet he gave you the immense privilege to lead a new generation for His glory. Trust Him; Abide in Him. He will be with you “until the end”.
¹ Excerpt From: Stier, Greg. “Youth Ministry in the 21st Century (Youth, Family, and Culture): Five Views.”
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common