Student Ministry Is Not About Students
Student ministry is not about students. Student ministry is about God.
Well, yeah. Of course. Most of us would agree with that, but I think this is one of those areas in the church where our theology and methodology don’t always line up. We say we want a God-focused student ministry, but we do things that create a student-focused student ministry.
What’s the difference between a God-focused ministry and a student-focused ministry? I’m glad you asked. I’ll give you three.
1. A student-focused ministry aims to please students, but a God-focused ministry aims to please God.
I will admit, in my own ministry experience, this is a major temptation. I want students to like me, and I want them to like attending our church. So it’s easy to build programs and events around what they will enjoy the most. Do students like video games? Let’s be sure to buy the latest consoles and newest games. Do students like food? Let’s fill their stomachs at every event.
Student-pleasing can also impact the way we do “spiritual” things. If students like shorter messages, let’s give them shorter messages. If students get uncomfortable with accountability and discipleship, let’s be sure not to challenge them too much. If students think talking about sex is awkward, let’s scrap our purity emphasis.
If the goal of student ministry is to simply please students, then we don’t need more student pastors. We just need good wi-fi, plenty of phone chargers, and free Chick-fil-a. But as student pastors, we understand that our job is to give students what they need, which is not always what they want.
Students need God. They need to see his glory, hear his Word, and experience his transforming grace. They need to be reminded each week that life is not about them but life is about God and his glory (Isaiah 43:7). Students need a God-focused ministry that aims to please God.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t play games, have fun, or eat food. But it does mean we shouldn’t build a ministry around those things. We should start by asking the question, “What will please God the most?” Then we build from there.
2. A student-focused ministry measures short-term success, but a God-focused ministry measures long-term success.
Another temptation in student ministry is to place value on immediate results. Whatever attracts the most students, fills up the most seats, and gets the most attention is what is considered successful. Attendance determines effectiveness. Salvation and baptism numbers become the end goal.
But I believe there are other numbers that better define success in student ministry. How many students are still involved in church after leaving student ministry? How many students have been discipled to maturity? How many students are now discipling others?
These are long-term questions. But student ministry is about playing the long game. We only get 7 years with a student, if we are lucky. What happens to a student after student ministry says a lot about how successful those 7 years were. I learned early on in my ministry that drawing a crowd and filling seats does not equal changed lives. Sadly, baptizing lots of students does not equal changed lives either. We have too often viewed getting a lost student in the building and into the baptistery as the finish line. But that’s the starting point.
A God-focused ministry wants more for students than just keeping them out of trouble and away from the wrong crowd. A God-focused ministry focuses on the long, messy process of helping students become more like Christ. A God-focused ministry longs to see real, lasting fruit in the lives of students, fruit that may not be fully seen until long after their student ministry days (Romans 8:29-30).
A God-focused ministry plays the long game.
3. A student-focused ministry invests solely in student programs, but a God-focused ministry also invests in parents.
The Bible makes clear that the most important student ministry takes place in the home. Deuteronomy 6 places the burden of discipling a child on the parents, not the church. Yes, the church plays a role in ministering to students, but no one can replace the vital role of the parent. Parents and student ministries must partner together for the task of discipling their child.
A God-focused ministry invests in this partnership. Rather than taking all of the budget, time, energy, resources, and volunteers and spending them all on students, a God-focused student ministry invests in the parent as well. This not only honors God, but it ultimately honors the student and their family.
There is nothing wrong with programs for students. We all have them. But your weekly 2-3 hours with a student doesn’t come close to the impact their parents have on them. So why not minister to the parents as well? Why not teach them and train them on how to disciple their child? Why not give them resources for this all-important task?
A student-focused ministry glorifies what the ministry offers for the student. A God-focused ministry glorifies the One who transforms not only the student, but the entire family. When the focus is on God, the student ministry has no problem with the parents getting the credit for their child’s spiritual life. In fact, that’s exactly what it wants. Because when a student ministry partners with parents, it creates the potential for a massive, unified impact in the student’s life that goes beyond middle school and high school.
So no, student ministry is not about students. It’s about God. And when we place the focus on Him, it turns out that students get what they need more than anything else, God Himself.