“Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss.” – 1 Cor 3: 10-15a NLT
Jesus is the Why
Jesus Christ’s mission to seek and save the lost must be the reason a student ministry exists. Through His life of perfect obedience, substitutionary death on the cross, and victorious resurrection, Jesus has freed students from the power of sin and death. Too often, student ministries are developed around the idea of providing an entertainment or social venue as an alternative to anything in the secular sphere. Here’s the deal: unless the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the centerpiece, it is not a student ministry. That’s fine, just call a spade a spade.
Parents are Empowered
Student ministries should serve parents first and foremost. Parents are the ordained rock for our students, and the culture – at large – is working actively to erode their influence. A student ministry shouldn’t contribute to that project. Instead, effective student ministries will teach students to respect and honor their father and mother, regardless of whether their parents follow Christ or not. Student ministries should build a culture that equips parents to disciple their students. A student pastor has up to seven years with any given student up to about 4 hours a week; a parent has his or her lifetime. Who’s going to make the greater impact in that student’s life? Don’t erode a parent’s influence in their student’s life.
Identity is Tribal
Christians are not born again into autonomous independence. We are born into a tribe. That tribe has a language, a culture, and a head: Christ Jesus. Students should buy into the local church and find their identity there in the congregation. Student ministries aren’t a party upstairs or a fun night out. Students are a living, breathing component of the larger body gathered. There are endless things vying for your students’ allegiance. They can find identities in sports, band, academics, and more, but as student pastors we should want our students to find their identity as those who are “no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens of the saints and members of God’s household” (Eph 2:19). So, don’t undermine the importance of the local body, even if you hate the “traditional worship” style or age cohorts within the church. Your appreciation for the importance of the church – or lack thereof – directly influences your student’s appreciation for it. And if they don’t identify as a member or attender of a local congregation, what are they rooted in when they graduate?
Discipleship is Relational
Developing a student’s relationship’s walk with Christ is something that they can only learn through imitation and teaching (Heb 13:7). As often as possible, a student minister will spend time with his students in intentional moments carved out from everyday life dedicated to the instruction and application of God’s word. Student pastors should model for them what it means to live in submission to God’s word and enjoying the blessings of a wise and obedient life in Christ. That can — and should — be done over coffee, bible study, or dodgeball on a Saturday night.
Rightly Order Priorities
Notice nothing mentioned about cool music, amazing visuals, or relevant messages. You, as a student pastor, can never compete long-term with your local movie theater or concert venue for entertainment or relevance on these footings. But, you can offer something that everyone desperately wants: the forgiveness of sin, the removal of shame, and an abundant life. Don’t set aside this gold to peddle pewter. Despite your best efforts, your alchemy will only come off as a lame attempt at culture savvy and trivialize the gospel of life. Prioritize Christ, parents, the church, and relational discipleship, and the fruit of your ministry will outlast that of any who slandered you as irrelevant.