Student Ministry is no longer the Ronco Rottiserie: You can’t just set it and forget it; It takes work.
I was in student ministry for sixteen years. I have been an intern, a resident, an associate student pastor and the lead student pastor, with experience leading both small rural and large metro ministries. I have spoken at Youth Specialties conferences and CIY, and was mentored by Les Christie when I attended San Jose Christian College (now William Jessup University). I have a heart for students and love pouring life into student ministers.
“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18
Life is different for me now. Or rather, my context is different. The script has flipped, and I am no longer a student pastor, and my daughter is now a student. She’s in seventh grade and is actively involved in student ministry. She is a student leader, she attends weekends and midweeks, and is active outside of church activities and in our community. Every year she grows more visible and more engaging. It’s our family’s lifeblood, so it makes sense that she would naturally carry the mantle.
But I am only meh on student ministry right now.
Content is everything, but context determines direction. I want to describe for you our life in short so you can better understand the “meh” I am feeling right now, and maybe, just maybe, you can see that I am not alone and there are a lot of people in your church who look and feel just like me.
I lead Catalyst Church Creative as a freelancer (my “9-5”). There are weeks when I work more than 40 and less than 30. It fluctuates greatly, but it all averages out in the end to something our family can handle with margin. Our kids each attend charter school. This allows my wife to pour her expertise into them as well as get great supplemental education from amazing teachers (my daughter is currently doing calculus as a seventh grade student). Our kids are both in sports. My son plays flag football through NFL Flag San Diego and my daughter plays club lacrosse with North Coast Storm. Outside of teaching and creating opportunities for our kids, my wife and I attend North Coast Church and volunteer in various areas, including app development and the Daily Dose.
We are busy, but it is not overwhelming nor is it too much. We have not dropped a knee to the god of potential for our kids, nor are we creating an atmosphere of entitlement. We are your average family, with kids in school and sports, who attend and volunteer at church.
Now that you know our context, let me tell you four reasons why I am only meh on student ministry right now.
- Expectations and Priority. It is expected that my daughter attends every event, every midweek and weekend gathering, and every leadership meeting. As my daughter transitioned into seventh grade, her student pastor held an introduction meeting with parents where he started off by saying student ministry would be the most important aspect of her life for the next two years. Not only do I not agree with that statement, the expectation is that student ministry must be the first priority, and that’s just not how we read the Gospel as a family nor how I read a proper philosophy of ministry. It’s not wrong, but it is different, and because of it there is a lack of alignment. She attends most meetings, is still engaged, but is filtered through our family lens of expectation and priority.
- Time. My daughter is a teenager. 13. Her brain is still developing and will continue to do so well into her 20’s. My wife and I know her well and know that her adolescent body cannot handle staying out until 10:00pm every Tuesday night. It shifts her entire week off. A lack of sleep creates poor decisions the next day, puts her at a deficit for study and school, and does not give her body enough time to rest physically. She attends most meetings, is still engaged, but is filtered through our family lens of time management.
- Communication. One of the things I hear often in student ministry circles is that they partner with parents. However, what I have experienced is that every student ministry has a different definition of partnership. While one may say partnership is teaching their kids from stage and in groups, another may say getting to know the parents and their context. A lack of definition drives this conversation and until partnership is defined in context, it is merely a statement meant to set parents at ease. Even with minimum undefined communication, she attends most meetings, is still engaged, but is filtered through our family lens of communication.
- Opportunities. Student ministries place the highest value of ministry on their ministry (not necessarily a bad thing). However, to some degree it negates the value of opportunities outside of student ministry. The church’s job is to make disciples (who make disciples). A closed loop system that values internal ministry over external ministry not only negates the Gospel, it hinders engagement with the world at large once a teen transitions out of student ministry. For us, we see opportunities with neighborhood friends, club lacrosse, and school as a more fertile ground of opportunity and student ministry as a training ground of sorts. Ergo, prepare my daughter in partnership with her parents to go out into a world that needs her to share and be the Gospel. She attends most meetings, is still engaged, but is filtered through our family lens of opportunity.
“She attends most meetings, is still engaged, but is filtered through our family lens of expectation and priority, time management, communication, and opportunity.”
This is where we are at … right now. Context may change in the years to come, but I still expect these four reasons to steer our involvement in the future as our son comes into student ministry and our daughter moves into high school. And I am not hating on our church or its leaders. I love our church and some of the pastors there are close friends of mine. But I do want to provide a healthy way to have a conversation about parenting and partnerships in student ministry.
I had a Ronco Rotisserie. It’s a landfill somewhere. I love my students and student ministry too much to not have this conversation right now. Let’s talk.