The Most Important Part of Student Ministry

If I were to ask you the question, “What is the most important part of student ministry?” what would be your answer? Some people might say it’s disciplieship. The most important thing is disciplining the next generation. Some people might say evangelism. The most important thing is sharing the Gospel with students. Some may even say relationships. The most important thing is for students to build healthy relationships with Godly adults as well as other students. Some people may not say it, but deep down they put a lot of important in having a large student ministry, with the best building and best stage set up. I believe all these things are important and should be important parts of our ministry, but I do not believe any of them are the most important part of student ministry.

Before I share what I believe is the most important part of student ministry, let me share with you my journey thus far in student ministry that has led me to this conclusion. I grew up and served as a volunteer youth leader in a large student ministry. We had big Wednesday night gatherings, went to some big events, and went to a crazy and big summer camp. All I knew was big student ministry, I have never really been in, as a student or volunteer, in a small student ministry. Throughout my college years as I studied student ministry, I read and looked up to guys in “big” student ministries. Because I knew of nothing else, I desired and prayed for a big student ministry in the future. I loved the student ministry I grew up in and have loved the student ministries I have served in as a volunteer and as an intern. I thank God He placed me in some large student ministries that were top-notch. I still have dreams and a vision for a large student ministry and I am striving in my current student pastor position to see that happen, but I have come to the conclusion that having a big student ministry is not the most important thing. As a matter of fact, I have come to the conclusion that discipleship, evangelism, and relationships are not even the most important thing. I believe, with all my heart, that the most important part of student ministry is the student pastor’s relationship with God.

In his book, Life in Student Ministry, Tim Schmoyer explains it this way:

Your own [referring to the student pastor] relationship with Christ should come first. How can you model mature Christian faith if you’re not growing. Teens need to see the priority of your relationship with Christ as something real and genuine-not just something you talk about. Plus, the more your love grows for the Lord, the more your love will grow for the teens around you.

A lot of times, including myself, student pastors put great importance on the work of Christ rather than the person of Christ. The most important thing in student ministry is making sure the student pastor is growing in his personal relationship with God. That is the starting point of student ministry!¬†¬†Houston Heflin, in his book Youth Pastor: Theological and Practice of Youth Ministry, defines youth ministry this way: “Youth ministry is a Spirit-led discipleship process by which God works through Christian adults to lead teens into relationship with God and to Christlike maturity as part of the body of Christ, the church.” Did you catch that? Student ministry is God working through adults. If that is how God works through student ministry, student pastors, and their leaders, must be growing in their personal walk with God. That is the source of student ministry, that is the most important thing!

I do not think a student pastor can focus enough on his personal relationship with God. His walk with Christ must come before student ministry. It’s his walk with Christ that will make him usable and effective in student ministry. Where is your focus? What is the most important thing in your student ministry?

Youth Ministry Defined

A few months ago I ordered Houston Heflin’s book Youth Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Youth Ministry. I only read the first few chapters and never finished the entire book. I am hoping to go back and finishing reading this great book soon. In the first chapter, Heflin does something that most youth ministry books do not do, he talks about the youth pastor’s and youth leaders personal walk with God. During this chapter he also gives his definition of youth ministry which is the best definition I have ever heard.

Youth ministry is a Spirit-led discipleship process by which God works through Christian adults to lead teens into relationship with God and to Christlike maturity as part of the body of Christ, the church.

What I love about this definition is the fact it deals with the adult’s walk with God before anything else. Before someone can minister to students they must be growing in their own faith. If we are not growing in our walk with God than we have nothing to give students except fun, games, and some cheap entertainment. But if we are growing in our walk with God we have Biblical insight and real life faith to give them. God chooses to work through people. He can and will work through other things you may do in youth ministry, but God desires to use spiritual adults to point students to Jesus and a mature faith. To all my fellow youth workers, focus on your walk with God above all else. Do not lay your walk with God on the altar for games, fun, and entertainment in youth ministry! We must be walking with God and growing in our faith before we can be effective youth workers.

Houston Heflin, Ed.D is a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education (NAPCE) and the Association of Youth Ministry Educators (AYME). He is on faculty at Abilene Christian University, where he teaches courses on ministry, and is a frequent speaker at national conferences and workshops.

Two books I would recommend on this subject is Indispensable Youth Pastor by Mark DeVries and Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields.