Saying No In Student Ministry

One of things I am learning in my first student pastor position is the value of saying no to certain things. For ministry leaders, and student pastor like me, simply saying no can be one of the hardest things to do in ministry. In his book, What Matters Most, Doug Fields says, “While saying no results in many personal benefits, it’s a difficult word for most ministry-minded leaders to utter because their ministry culture values yes.” A lot of times student ministry culture says “you have to do more” and student pastors are falling for that lie left and right. I’ll admit, I’m not an expert at this. Being fresh out of college and in my first student pastor position, it’s easy to “always make sure I have enough on the calendar.” I’m in the process of learning how to say the word no. I am learning that there comes a time, usually it’s a lot of the time, when I need to say no because there is more important stuff to focus on. Here are some times to say no in student ministry.

1. When it takes the place of your own personal relationship with God. In a post awhile back called The Hardest Person to Lead, I quoted Chris Finchum as he said, “It’s easy to fall in love with the work of Christ rather than the person of Christ.” Student pastors must say no to something if it will get in the place of their personal walk with God. Doug Fields said this about his early years in ministry: “Because in the busyness of my first decade of ministry, I abandoned my first love (God) and developed a love affair with doing ministry.” The number one key to successful youth ministry is being a student pastor who is in love with Jesus and walking consistently with Him. Many student pastors are missing this important key because they are too busy with youth ministry to invest in their own walk with God. Revelation 2:4 says, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Say no if it will get in the way of personal walk with God.

2. When it puts your character and integrity at stake. Another time we need to say no in student ministry is when it puts your personal character at stake. The first qualification for a leader given by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 is to be “above reproach.” As student pastors, we must guard our character. From example, don’t say yes to taking a student of the opposite sex home if it’s only going to be yourself and the student in the car. Your personal character is more important than a ride home. Some may disagree with me on this point, but I believe a student pastor’s personal character is more important that ministry to teenagers. We are called to be holy and must say no to whatever puts that at stake.

3. When it gets in the way of your family. I remember listening to a Perry Noble leadership podcast as he talked about the topic of putting your spouse before ministry. One statement he said that stuck in my head was “Jesus will take care of His church.” God called student pastors to be pastors to their spouses and children first. We are to be leaders at home, before we are leaders at church. At the end of the day, Jesus will take care of your youth ministry. God has called us to be pastors of our home before pastors of the students at our church. Don’t sacrifice your family on the alter of student ministry, it’s unbiblical and not worth it. Say no if it gets in the way of your family.

These are just a few times I believe we need to say no as student pastors. You may have noticed, I didn’t say anything about programing or even the student ministry, I focused on the leader as a person. I believe building a person is more important than building a ministry. Ric Garland says, “Build the man and God will build the ministry.” When student pastors focus on growing in Christ as a person, God will grow the ministry.

I mentioned Doug Field’s book What Matters Most a few times in this post. This is a great little book that I would recommend anyone in ministry to read. It will help you underatand what matters the most and how you can say no to all the other stuff. Click here to purchase a copy of it from Amazon.

3 Reasons Your Student Ministry MUST Have Small Groups

I’m encouraged by the growth and popularity of small groups in student ministries among churches today. Apart from the teaching of God’s Word, small groups seem to me to be the catalyst for students growing in their faith. A student pastor can stand before a group of students week after week and teach them the Bible, but it’s not until the students get in a small group, led by a trained and impassioned leader, that they start to really own and live what they have been hearing from the student pastor.

Unfortunately, many student ministries still don’t do small groups. Now, there are many different factors that contribute to this. Some people are limited by group size and/or availability of adult volunteers. But for others, there doesn’t seem to be any real roadblocks to introducing a small group strategy. For these folks, I’d like to offer three reasons why your student ministry really needs to have a small group strategy.

1. Jesus did it! If you read through the Gospels you’ll find that Jesus spent most of His time with twelve men. (And even within the twelve, He had a group of three He was even more intentional with.) Jesus invested His time and energy into these guys, helping them own their faith and compelling them to ultimately change their world. Yes, Jesus spent some time among the sinners, the sick, and the outcast. He met people’s needs. But the majority of His time was spent teaching the Twelve. These small group of men would carry on His work when He left. Jesus knew the importance and effectiveness in investing time into a smaller group of people rather than ton of people.

2. It is the best way to see discipleship happen. In the book The Greenhouse Project, Ric Garland says that one person can only effectively disciple five to six people. Even if you added a few people to Ric’s number, this is still a problem as the majority of youth ministries have more than six or eight students. If you’re still trying to teach your group of 20 or 30 by yourself, you’re not discipling as effectively as you could be. Consider recruiting adult volunteers and giving each one five-to-six students, encouraging and empowering them to invest their time and energy into discipling those students.

3. It gets adult leaders involved. If you take the last point I said seriously than that means you will need to have a team of adult leaders that you disciple first (they become your small group), then they will in turn disciple a group of students which becomes their small group. An effective student ministry depends on the student pastor building a team of adult leaders who invest in the students. If we want to see each student in our ministry reached, and watch them grow in their faith, we must make sure to get adults involved and to give them the training they need to invest in students’ lives.

Our student ministries are filled with students who desperately need to be challenged how to live out their faith. If we don’t get them into small groups where they feel comfortable talking, sharing, and connecting with an adult, they may end up graduating our ministries in much the same way they came in. Putting the time and effort into making small groups a part of your student ministry is worth it!

I originally wrote this post for Youth Ministry 360’s blog. Click here to view this post on their blog.

Why I Am Studying Leadership in Seminary

In a few weeks I will start my first set of seminary classes with Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. I will be working on a Master’s of Art in Religion with a specialization in Christian Leadership. As I was praying and planning for seminary I knew I wanted to pursue a Master’s of Arts in Religion degree, but was not sure what I wanted to specialize in. Liberty allows you to choose a specific specialization when you take the Master’s of Arts in Religion. With so many to choose from I was torn between discipleship and leadership because I know they both will be important in life-long ministry. My undergrad youth professor, Shean Phillps, took the discipleship classes at Liberty and implemented several of the books and things in our undergrad youth classes. Because of this I decided to go with the specialization in leadership.

A few weeks ago I was playing golf with some of my friends and my friend Mark asked my why I decided to specialize in Christian leadership in seminary. A few others have asked me the same thing so I decided to share the two main reasons I feel God has directed me to specialize in Christian leadership in seminary.

Everything rises and falls in leadership. I have heard this saying many times and believe it is extremely true. I believe that a successful ministry can always be traced back to good leadership. Show me a growing, dynamic church and I will show you a good leader. Show me a growing, dynamic student ministry and I will show you a good leader. The church today is in need of well-trained, wise, and Biblical leaders! Most ministries fall apart because of poor leadership. I have also heard it said that if you want to measure the spiritual temperature of a church or a student ministry than measure the spiritual temperature of its leaders. The spiritual temperature of the leaders will dictate the spiritual temperature of the people under them.

I believe God has gifted me and equipped me to work in a large church setting. I am encouraged by mega-churches who are doing it right and hope one day I can serve in a large church. One of my mentors, Brian Baker, has pointed out this gifting and equipping in my life as well. I doubt I will land a ministry job in a large church at first since I’m fresh out of college, but believe I will one day in the future. In larger church, leadership is huge! That is one reason I am specializing in Christian leadership. When you lead a ministry, for example a student ministry since that is what I am pursuing, you spend more time training and building a leadership team rather than you alone focusing on the students. In the book The Greenhouse Project, Ric Garland, the director of Word of Life Local Church Ministry, says that one person can only effectively disciple five to six people. In a large church, a student pastor cannot disciple each student. He must train leaders and build a leadership team to carrying out his passion and desire for student ministry.

You are a leader everywhere. John Maxwell says leadership is influence. Wherever you effectively influence people, you are a leader. I know God has called me to be a leader in the local church, but also know God has called me to be a leader to my wife, children, and anything else He decides to put me over. I believe my study of Christian leadership in seminary will help me be a Godly, Biblical leader inside and outside the local church. In a culture where leaders are falling left and right due to immorality and lack of character, we need good leaders. The church needs them. The world needs them. Our culture desperately needs them!

These are two of the main reasons I feel like God has directed me to specialize in Christian leadership in seminary. At the end of this degree I have the option of rolling it into a M.Div. (Master’s of Divinity) and getting that degree as well. I am not sure if I will do this because I’m not sure what my life will look like in a few years. Either way, I am grateful for the undergrad education God has allowed me to receive and privileged to be able to work on a Master’s for the next few years.