A Long-Term View of Student Ministry

A number of months ago one of our students was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to church with friends. This young man had a strong faith and had a passion for serving and missions trips. His funeral was obviously a very gut wrenching occassion, but in many ways a time to celebrate his faith, life, and his eternal destination. At the lunch after the funeral, a parent asked me this pertinent question:

When all is said and done, where do you hope to see students by the end of high school? What are your priorities for them?

It’s a question that I somewhat answered at the time, but is a question I have been working through ever since (and still am). The funeral of a sixteen year old student and this question from a parent gave me a new perspective on what I do. In some ways, it gave me a new lens to look through in what I do… It has caused me to struggle through the question:

What matters most in my ministry” What priorities are truly going to help students grow and “finish well”?

Or, maybe, frame it this way:

What is most important today that will impact students in the long-term? 

Before I jump into what my priorities are, I must remind myself that I am here to partner with parents, not replace them. They are with their kids much more than I. The more I can come alongside parents in their primary ministry, the greater the impact on their students. It’s easy to place all the burden and focus on our student ministries, when in fact God intends parents to be the primary disciples makers of their kids. However, as I partner with parents and provide the best environments for students to grow, he is my “work in progress” list of priorities I have for students:

  1. SELF FEEDERS: Students are equipped to “self-feed” their faith with personal Bible study, prayer, and accountability. I want them to own their faith and have a personal deep faith with their Savior.  It simply is not enough to spoon feed our kids and hope they will survive without owning their own faith through daily habits.
  2. COMMUNITY: Where students are connected and learn the importance of staying connected as they grow into adulthood. The more they learn and experience healthy community while at church, the more likely they will search and discover authentic community once they graduate.
  3. SERVING & OUTREACH: Students discover their gifts and the fulfilment of serving in church, their communities and on their campuses. If they serve in our ministries and church ministries they further more reason to stay connected to the body once they graduate high school.
  4. OWNERSHIP: Students feel they are integral to what is happening on a weekly basis. It’s not a finely oiled adult led student ministry, but an authentic student led ministry where students can be involved and lead what God is doing, (no matter how messy things might get).
  5. LEADERSHIP: A place where younger students are served and invested in by older ones. So often, I see older students acting with an “entitlement” mentality towards the younger ones. I firmly believe it’s imperative to create a culture of older students serving younger ones. It is my hope that these students will develop into adults who are here to serve the others, not consume as we see so often in our churches.
  6. A DEEP FAITH THAT REACHES OUT: A ministry that is deep and wide where students have depth of love for their savior and the heart and the tools for reaching the lost.
  7. FAITH & REASON: Students are challenged to have a grounding in faith and reason for God’s existence. One day they will enter college campuses where they will be challenged with various arguements. It’s imperative that we help students understand science and fact that points towards our God.
  8. ME TO WE: Adult leaders (and students) need to know how to accomplish ministry goals even when I am not there.  My goal is to invest, equip, and empower leaders in such as way that they might be tempted to ask the question, “So, what does Phil actually do around here”. I firmly believe that my ministry is more effective and God honoring when it is not focused on me. Too many of us enjoy being the “rock stars” of ministry, but we can easily overshadow Jesus and stifle others ministry opportunities.
  9. BELONG TO THE CHURCH: Here’s one that Tim Brown added to the list, (see the comments). “I’ve also seen for those students who are in the area after HS, that sadly they don’t feel that they “belong” to the church the attended during youth group. Though we are a more traditional/blended worship (i.e. Not contemporary or emergent) I believe the fault is that one of our goals was that we didnt aim to incorporate th into the body of adult believers. We let youth group and “church” run parallel, but not connected. Maybe that’s unique in my church because it’s large, but I would add that to the list”.

Well, there’s my “work in progress” list for now… I am adding and tweaking these ideas and goals as I go. I would love to get feedback from you too!

Phil <><

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11 Responses to A Long-Term View of Student Ministry

  1. Danette February 8, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    Sounds like a well-balanced diet. Well done. Your students are blessed to have you as a shepherd and mentor.

  2. youthworktalk February 10, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Thanks Danette! Still figuring it all out 🙂

  3. Josh Robinson February 11, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    Great and insightful post!

    I have also thought of that powerful question of impacting students for the long term. I have struggled with it over and over. I think that your thoughts on it are relevant and biblical. Student ministry must continually change and be focused upon making disciples. Students must learn to be “self-feeders” as you have said. I think this is what I’ve put a majority of my focus upon in the past few years. Teaching students the basics so that they can grow along with encouraging parents to as well.
    Community, service, leadership and so forth. Great job communicating the core of what student ministry SHOULD be doing. I hope that it is true in my own ministry and not put out more consumers but ministers to their culture.
    How are you seeing students lead in your ministry? I’m trying to develop more ways for them to use their gifts/abilities!

    I sure don’t want to be a “rock star” but just be faithful in leading students to love Jesus with their entire being.

    Josh

  4. Matt Cleaver February 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    I think your list of priorities is pretty solid.

    However, I think you aren’t having enough of a long-term view.

    Rather than asking, “When all is said and done, where do you hope to see students by the end of high school?” I try to ask, “Where do you hope to see students two years after they graduate high school.” I think this question keeps things in focus and provides a really good barometer for measuring our effectiveness.

    The problem with this is the 8 year lag time when we get the results! If a student is in 6th grade today, it is 8 more years until they are two years out of college, and the things that we do now won’t really show their effectiveness for a long time.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but I know that if I we have students who are still growing in faith and involved in church and ministry when they are two years out of high school, then I feel like we have had our priorities right.

    Thanks for posting.

  5. Phil Bell February 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm #

    @Josh, thanks for your comments! Yes, getting students started with the basics then creating environments for them to live out their faith is a great step in the right direction. Millenials want to experience and be a part of something great. We need to get them started and point them that way, (while partnering with parents where we can – again, they are with their kids far more than us).

    @Matt, yes I agree the long-term view should be longer. I was more writing from the reality that I only have until the end of high school to impact my students. Yes, you are right to ask the question though. If we look the lens of 20 years from now, what should we hope to see based on what we do today in our ministries?

    This is such good to stuff to grapple through! Thanks for your comments!

  6. Matt Cleaver February 12, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    Yeah, I understand that, for the most part, we only have until they graduate to help them grow and mature in faith. I was just pointing out that the true fruit can be measured better a year and a half after they graduate rather than when they walk across the stage.

    Of course, there is also the thought that ministry really isn’t done when they graduate, but that’s a whole topic in itself.

  7. Phil Bell February 12, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    Thanks Matt! I think you are right, that’s a whole topic by itself! I am so glad that we are all churning this stuff over. I know that good stuff is going to come from it all.

  8. Chris Wesley March 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    Phil, great article, it’s a great exercise to lay out values for your ministry. I would now take those values and turn them into a vision statement and preach it. Another value to name (it’s in there with some of the other values, but name it) is problem solving. We need to raise up risk takers, because Christianity isn’t meant to be safe.
    Again I like what you have, keep inspiring others to do the same.

  9. Tim Brown March 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Hi Phil,
    I’ve also seen for those students who are in the area after HS, that sadly they don’t feel that they “belong” to the church the attended during youth group. Though we are a more traditional/blended worship (i.e. Not contemporary or emergent) I believe the fault is that one of our goals was that we didnt aim to incorporate th into the body of adult believers. We let youth group and “church” run parallel, but not connected. Maybe that’s unique in my church because it’s large, but I would add that to the list.

  10. youthworktalk March 29, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Tim, you are right indeed! I will add that to my post right away. Although that is something I am focused on, I did not include it in my long-term vision for students in a clear way. Under heading “ownership”, that is where I was headed, but I did not communicate that well. My background is Family Life Ministry and my prof would be disgusted with me 🙂 Thanks for adding this! Great stuff mate!!! Keep up the Kingdom work!

    Phil <><

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