I was 23 the first time someone told me she didn’t want to live anymore. I felt unprepared and unqualified as she looked to me for direction. I was a brand-new student minister and thought my work with teenagers would mostly be teaching the Bible, planning and playing games. I thought the most common crisis I’d face would be calculating how much pizza to order for the weeknight event.
While I was consistently ministering to adolescents enduring horrific tragedies—overdoses, friends committing suicide, parents' divorces and failing classes—some would ask me when I was going to become a “real pastor.” I’d been told by a senior pastor of another church that student ministers “didn’t do much,” yet here I was, learning how to minister to a seemingly constant stream of young men and women battling with promiscuity, self-harm or desires to run away. Sure, I planned lock-ins, kickball tournaments and giant food fights, but I was also counseling high school students who were struggling with addictions to pornography, video games, alcohol and drugs.
The Importance of Student Ministry
A church’s ministry to teenagers is not to provide for the undistracted convenience of adults in the church. It is for the seeking, saving and shepherding of young men and women. Unlike a lot of adults, many students in the Church are completely lost and disinterested in spiritual matters. Many students come against their will, only attending because their parents make them. Middle school and high school students generally don’t have adult wisdom or adult coping mechanisms, yet they face adult problems everyday.
Adolescence is a critical time of self-discovery and faith formation, and the Church must prioritize how the gospel of Jesus Christ and the people of God can address their distinct spiritual, emotional and physical needs. When we stand before God, we will be just as accountable for our teenage years as our adult ones, and we are called to pastor teenagers like we believe that’s true. Student ministry isn’t just shepherding the future of the Church; it’s shepherding the Church today.
Middle school and high school students generally don’t have adult wisdom or adult coping mechanisms, yet they face adult problems everyday.
The Importance of a Good Student Minister
The role of student minister is one of the most important roles in the Church. It is a high calling in a critical ministry area, and too often churches need to be reminded of this. We don’t want to simply facilitate hangouts or pal around with the youth. We need youth leaders who want to shepherd or lead students, to care for their hearts and teach their minds. Our student ministers must want to be in it for the long haul. We shouldn’t have a revolving door of student ministers who see it as some sort of ladder into “real ministry.” We don’t need student ministers who are simply “willing to do it” while they wait for the job they really want, but rather someone who wants to be in it. Kids suffer from enough instability; they should be able to find examples of stability in their student ministers.
Most importantly, a good student minister must be godly. For the church that prioritizes student ministry, the integrity and faith of the student minister are non-negotiable. To hire someone because they are perceived to be cool, young or fun, while overlooking deficiencies in character or spiritual maturity, is to court the disaster of ministry thwarted by disgrace. We have seen too many student ministers fall from their positions for scandalous reasons. Churches must ask tough questions about propensities to sin and temptation struggles, and potential student ministers must walk in honesty about their struggles, war against sin and repent fluently.
The discipleship of teenagers is too important to not prioritize student ministry in our local church or to compromise in filling the position for a student minister. We need faithful student ministry and faithful leaders to shepherd them.