Three Components to a Thriving Student Ministry
By Josh Joines
In the fall of 2000, with my new bride of one month and a little U-Haul trailer, Kara and I struck out to a dusty little West Texas town with a dream in our heart to change a generation for God. I’ve got to tell you that it wasn’t long until we figured out that simply having a desire to do something wasn’t enough. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and we had so much to learn!
We were so glad that God would consider using us to shape the minds and hearts of students, who at the time, were just a few years younger than us. We were passionate and excited, but we lacked the ability to see the bigger picture and the wisdom of how to put it all together.
Early on passion, desire and a good work ethic weren't lacking. I thought that if I preached good enough and worked hard enough that I would see the dream in my heart come to pass. Thank God for dreams and passion, but I’ve learned it takes more than that. Without the necessary components a dream is just a dream, but when you learn to put it all together, you can take your student ministry to the next level.
Sadly, I’ve seen many youth pastors work themselves to the point where they are worn out and burned out. After 12 years of full time ministry to students, I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be that way. We can enjoy ministry to students right now, and I hope this article encourages you in your journey. After all, we’re all growing and learning from one another.
So let’s talk about three components that I think are absolutely necessary to building a thriving student ministry.
• A thriving student ministry is Intentional.
As stated earlier, my biggest mistake early on as a young youth pastor was not a lack of passion or desire, but rather my inability to see “The Bigger Picture.” Great planning can help you accurately assess where you are, where you are going and most importantly how to get there.
What a minute! Planning?! What’s that?!
“Josh, it’s just not in my personality to plan,” said one youth pastor to me during one of our training sessions.
Proverbs 21:5 (NIV) says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”
Planning produces a peaceful process for my ministry and my personal life to thrive! Planning keeps me running at a great pace so I can be an effective pastor, husband, dad and friend. Planning helps me to approach each day with a clear purpose and an opportunity to be productive.
Intention is defined as “an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides your planned actions.”
For too long, youth ministries have merely been a holding pond of pizza, iPods, and video games where parents drop off their kids and youth pastors just try to have fun with them. I’ve got to admit that the momentum that is generated from gathering a big crowd feels great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve hit the mark of seeing disciples made. I believe we can have a big crowd and at the same time see God doing something deep within hearts. How does that happen? It only happens when a higher level of intentionality is embraced from us as student ministry leaders. It starts with a plan.
Now I know that I’m “probably the only one who has done this”, but in my early days, I would frantically plan from week to week just hoping that the kids would live out the truth that I preached and come to the events I planned. This approach was like throwing mud at the wall. I was hoping that something would stick! Most of the time it didn’t, and I longed to see a deeper spiritual transformation take place in their hearts. I knew there was more we could do.
So youth pastors must answer, where are we going and how are we going to get there? The answers are found in the creation of a discipleship calendar, events calendar, and a daily schedule. These are just a few of the items that are so important to the well being of the youth pastor, his family, the students and the ministry.
Once the plan is prepared, now we must effectively communicate the mission in a way that garners the support of others and inspires them to find their place in the vision.
• A thriving student ministry is Inclusive.
Once we know what we are doing, where we are going and how to get there, we can invite others to come along on the journey! It’s a lot more fun when others are involved and finding fulfilling their God-given passions! One key component to making that happen is creating a great mission statement, a grand idea to rally around!
Habakkuk 2:2 (NLT) says “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.
In other words, a clear mission creates clear purpose and direction for your ministry. How do we do that?
• Visit with your Lead Pastor. What does He want to see happen?
• Develop a clear, concise statement that states why your program exists.
• Run it by with your Lead Pastor and get his approval.
• Inform your leaders and students with your mission statement and display in your ministry everywhere you can to create excitement in the hearts of people.
• Everything revolves around our mission.
As you can see, the first thing you must do is have a great relationship with your lead pastor, because as the shepherd of your church. He is the one that needs to cast the vision for the student ministry. What do you mean Josh? I’m the youth pastor. I’m the one with the vision from God!
I am embarrassed to say that was my mindset early in ministry. There’s a problem with that attitude. The truth is that you’re not the lead pastor, and a youth pastor that doesn’t understand spiritual authority will have a tough time in ministry. I can’t tell you of how many youth pastors I have met that have left their assignment too soon because they failed to understand the importance of developing a good relationship with their lead pastor.
Our responsibility as youth pastors is to have the vision of the pastor for our church, because the youth ministry, brace yourself here…is just a part of the overall ministry. Now it’s an important part, but it is still just a part.
When you develop a great relationship with your lead pastor you will have no problem understanding his vision for the youth program and the two of you can accomplish some special things together. At times he’ll just give you a big picture statement and depending upon his personality, he may want to have a more hands-on approach. Either way, you’re ability to connect with your pastor will determine your level of effectiveness.
Once you have a clear understanding of the mission statement of your church and the vision of your pastor for students, you can now derive your own mission statement for your student ministry program and get our pastor’s stamp of approval on what you’re doing.
For our student ministry, E3, we have a very clear mission statement that our students, team members, and parents know. It solidifies our existence and brings credibility and purpose to our ministry.
Our mission statement for E3 is: “We exist so that students may ENCOUNTER God, ENVISION His plan for their lives, and be EQUIPPED to fulfill their destiny.
Simple and effective. It is the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, and it serves as a rally point for the incredible people that serve on your team.
• A thriving student ministry is Inviting.
I’ll never forget it when an attendee at a conference we were hosting came up to me and said “Hey Josh, I want to see your facility! I bet you have the best facility for gathering teens!” Wrong! I don’t have the most “wow” facility for our teens. I have a very nice facility, but I’ve learned to not allow the context of my ministry to outweigh the content.
I love being a part of an exciting environment, but it’s not all about the latest bells and whistles. They have a part in the process and we definitely utilize them, but most importantly, students want a place where they can just be themselves and know they are loved.
So as the youth pastor, you must be the one to establish this inviting and friendly culture in your ministry where students feel loved, affirmed and challenged to be all God wants them to be. At our student ministry, we want every student to feel so important and to know how God feels about them and how we feel about them. Our volunteers help us with this as they give out so many high fives and hugs! Every week, I encourage our leaders to have “4 on the Floor”. What does that mean? It is simply a challenge for them to connect with 4 students every week in a meaningful way. They are encouraged to get to know something about them and to connect at a deeper level. It has been a big hit for us!
When you start raising the level of the love of God in your youth ministry, God starts doing some amazing things! So enjoy student ministry! It can happen, but it’s going to take a great plan and some great people! You can do it, and together, we can shape a generation for God!