Student Pastors today have pretty much become their own breed of pastor. They are hip and cool. Most of them come equipped with a goatee, hip hairdo, cool man bag, iphone, ipad, some type of Biblical tattoo in Hebrew or Greek, and a guitar. I am not making fun (well sort of) because I was a youth pastor for 8 years. My high school youth pastor made a big difference in my life, but as I have thought about it, I think student ministry has become something that has gotten away from the Biblical model. Here are a few dangers I think student ministers should watch out for:
Student Ministry Should Not Create A Separate Church
It seems that most things that happen in church life today separate the family instead of bringing them together. We come to church and we all go to our different divisions and we will see each other around lunchtime. The Bible is clear that worship is a family thing, so why do we work so hard to split families up? I think much of the church planting movement in America today is birthed out of a generation that wants their church to be their student ministry. People my age who grew up in student ministry with a band and a “relevant” teacher now refuse to worship with “old” people that sing the “awful Hymns.” Are we reaching the lost or simply dividing the church more by creating churches of student ministries that have grown up? My generation has so much to learn from the previous generation. We need to be careful not to lose the Godly heritage that came before us.
Student Pastors Are Not Paid Entertainers
So many youth pastors keep a full calendar with bowling, movies, 5th quarters, amusement parks, and a host of other activities. Most of these activities have little significance. We always filed them under the “fellowship” banner. You are there to help students know Jesus Christ and become more like Him. There is a great pressure in student ministry to be a glorified babysitter to teenagers. Don’t be that guy.
What Should Student Pastors Do?
Model the Way
If you want your students to go to the next level in their faith then you need to already be at the level you want them to attain. Never expect them to witness more than you do. Never expect them to have a better quiet time then you do. As a leader it implies that you are out in front of them and are giving them an example to follow. Never expect what you are not first willing to do.
Empower the Parents
My first few years of student ministry I saw parents as kind of a hindrance to “my” ministry. I mean they did not know kids like I knew them and they threw cold water on so many of my “brilliant ideas” (like putting bananas in a toilet and blind folding kids and making them fish them out). The specific position of “Youth Minister” cannot be found in the pages of the Bible. I am not saying there is not a need for them, but I am saying the scripture is clear that God has put the responsibility of the next generation of faith primarily on the shoulders of the parents. (See Deuteronomy 6). The more you can get parents involved and get them to teach their teenagers the better. As a youth pastor, I spent a lot of time investing in a lot of kids. As I look back at all the students that I invested in there is a common theme. The kids who had Godly parents are still walking with Jesus. The kids who did not have Godly parents for the most part are living for themselves.
Give Students Big Bold Challenges
I find that this generation is under challenged. Challenge them with changing the world with the gospel and giving their lives for the gospel. This is a radical generation that wants something real and is willing to give their lives’ for it. When you give them the challenge to change the world give them some practical ways to do it in their school and their neighborhoods. If you expect little you will get little. I believe that this generation is hungry to do something big. Don’t sell them short with messages about having a positive self-image and recycling. Tell them about tribes that have yet to hear the message of Jesus and are hell bound unless someone goes to tell them. Ask them to be the person who reaches them.
Teach Them The Bible
While most of this generation is hungry for something real they are also very emotional. They have little Biblical and theological depth. They need to learn the word of God. It is the only thing that can truly change their lives and give them hope. Don’t give them an hour-long worship service with smoke, lights, and a “killer band” with a 15-minute devotion. Give them the word of God. Teach them how to study the scripture on their own and help them learn how to apply it to their daily lives. Take them through books of the Bible and show how the entire Bible points to the Gospel and to Jesus.
Don’t Be Afraid To Get Up In Their Business
As a youth leader you need to love the students and have a strong relationship with them. You need to know them well enough where you can talk to them about issues in their lives they are having. Remember what they tell you. Ask them about their tests, games, relationships, etc. You cannot do ministry from afar. I was always “up in my students business.” Sometimes they did not like how honest I was with them about everything from relationships to attitudes. But, for the most part those students later appreciated my honesty. Sometimes loving your kids will mean you have to tell them a harsh truth about themselves or their actions that they do not want to hear. This will make you unpopular for the moment. Which leads to my next point:
You Are Called To Be Their Pastor, Not Their BFF
Never forget you are there to help them grow as people and sometimes that will require being their leader and not their friend. Many youth pastors and leaders make the mistake of giving the youth the impression that they are best friends to the students. Student ministry is not about being a cool older guy that teaches teenagers. (This is actually quite pathetic if you think about it. It is like the 30 year old that is still trying to live out his youth at high school field parties.) Your relationship to students needs to be closer to a parent/child than friend/friend. You are there to guide them and not just be a shoulder to cry on. If they do not respect you as a leader they will not listen to what you have to tell them.