This is a question I’ve dealt with for several years now. I became a Student Minister at a really interesting time in my life as a follower of Christ and in the life of my Church. It was my first year in Seminary, studying to be a pastor and a Church planter. Growing up in the church and being a part of different student ministries (some good, mostly bad) had caused me to become cynical about the whole thing. I was also being discipled by men who were huge supporters of family integration, which caused me to be vocally against youth ministry all together.
Our Church was in a time of difficult transition and in need of someone to take on the role. When they asked me, I was torn. Should I continue sitting back with my jaded attitude about Student Ministry, or should I love my Church and do what I can to serve? Thankfully, I chose the latter.
I was determined when I started that I was going to do this in a way that glorified Christ served my Church as a whole as much as possible. I really didn’t have much of a framework for how to do this, but I knew two changes that needed to be made. These two principles are what I want to share with you today. They aren’t in any way the only two things that make a student ministry Biblical, but do believe they are the most lacking in student ministries across the United States.
- Keep the gospel at the center of it all.
It seems that the common message that sweeps across Evangelical student ministries centers around what the student is doing for God. Thousands of youth conferences and messages calling students to purity. Passionate calls for students stop drinking, cussing, and partying. All of these things are good and are part and parcel of Jesus’ call for us to make disciples. We should be “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19). The issue is when we as student ministers are causing our students to believe that being a Christian means no drinking, smoking, cussing, or premarital sex.
The last thing we as student ministers should want is for our students to fall into a state of trying to earn favor with God by their works. This can either cause a damning sense of pride, or a hopeless sense of defeat which will ultimately lead into rejecting the faith all together.
We need to constantly remind our students that all of their attempts to cause God to be pleased with them because of their devotion to him will only end in Jesus saying, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). Go to the scriptures with them and show them that all of their righteous deeds are as filthy rags before a holy God who will by no means clear the guilty (Isaiah 64:6, Numbers 14:18). Help them to come to the ultimate realization that they stand guilty before God the righteous judge and there is nothing they can do in themselves to be freed from the penalty of their sin.
Once they see the hopelessness of being righteous before God by their obedience to Him, point them to the hope that they can have in Christ who lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father (1 Peter 2:22) and died, taking the full punishment of God for their sin upon himself. Tell them about how God accepted that sacrifice by raising Jesus from the dead and that if they repent of their sin and from trying to earn God’s favor by their works and if they cling to Christ as their only hope for salvation, that all of the righteousness of Christ can be credited to them and they can be seen by God as holy and spotless. Not because of any righteousness in themselves, but only because the righteousness of Christ was credited to them (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:23-26).
Friends, if there is just one thing our students walk away with when they move on from being under our teaching on a weekly basis, its the gospel. Paul told the Corinthians , “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). This is the attitude we should have. Our prayer and our constant plea should always be that our students have a saving knowledge and unshakable foundation in the gospel. Make it the point of every lesson. When you teach them about purity, point them to the only one who was completely pure in their place. When you teach about being holy, show them how that is only possible through believing in the one who is the standard of holiness. Brothers, bug your student with the gospel. Keep it at the center of everything.
2. Involve your students in the life of the church.
If we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of creating a subculture of sorts for our students where they expect to just hang out with a bunch of people who are just like them.
we need to be very cautious about this in our student ministries since it can work against the Spiritual growth and discipleship. Making disciples works best by involving students into the life of the church. They need to see the whole body of Christ at work to know what Christianity really looks like lived out. They need to see the older discipling the younger, and the younger learning from the older (1 Timothy 5:1; Titus 2:2-6; 1 Peter 5:5).
One of the practical ways we’ve sought to implement this at my church is that we treat students who are baptized and have joined the church as adult members of the church. They are held accountable to the covenant and statement of faith they signed, and they are expected to take on the responsibilities of a church member. They attend members meeting and vote, they volunteer in areas of need, and they are subject to church discipline if they are found living in unrepentant sin. They are required to attend the gathering of the Church on the Lord’s Day, and expected to pray for the church. They are asked to reconcile broken relationships before taking the Lord’s Supper, and are under the oversight of the eldership. Just like every other member.
We believe that this is simply holding them accountable to the basic responsibilities of being a Christian.
When we involve students in the life of the church, they get to truly see the implications of the gospel on full display through unity across generational lines.
As we take on the noble task of reaching students for Christ, I pray that we put ourselves under the authority of God’s Word. I hope that this blog will be an encouragement for you to that end.
Grace and Peace, Dalton