Having spent over 20 years in student ministry, these are just a few brief thoughts that I felt led to share that every youth worker needs to know:
1. You Bring Nothing To The Table
A great friend of mine spoke this truth into my life several years back and he reminds me of it often when we are discussing ministry. He tells me, “You bring nothing to the table but your unrighteousness. Jesus brings everything else!” Before your pride starts letting you believe that you are God’s gift to ministry, allow this truth sink in and humble your heart. Because that is when true ministry happens. When we start to understand that this thing is not about us or our abilities, but rather it is all about Christ taking the wretches that we are and choosing to use us in His kingdom work, that’s when He begins to get the true glory in our lives and in our ministries.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” – James 4:10
2. You Should Partner With Other Student Ministers
I struggled with this for years in my ministry. I used to think that only small and weak student ministries needed to team up with other churches in order to do events. I felt that if I was to partner with another church for a ministry project, it was a poor reflection on me or that it expressed my ministry couldn’t do it alone. Looking back on it, it was really a pride issue. If I partnered with another minister to do an event, then I would have to share the success and glory that would come out of it. That is a sad place to be in ministry. The truth is, at times, we can do so much more Kingdom work collectively than we ever could apart. I’m not saying you have to team up for everything on your ministry calendar. But, at times, there are benefits to working together with other ministries.
“Therefore we ought to support others, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.” – 3 John 1:8
3. You Are Vulnerable
No matter who you are, no matter how strong your faith, you are vulnerable to a spiritual face plant. The real truth is that I am a sinner. And because of that, left to myself, without Christ’s influence in my life on a daily basis, I am capable of some very ugly, vile, nasty, grossly offensive things. I must commit to daily renewing my mind with the Truth of the Gospel. When I don’t, I leave myself spiritually exposed and even more vulnerable to attack.
Whether it be moral failure, divorce, addiction, or some other form of stumbling, be certain that Satan is looking for the opportunity to destroy you. I speak from experience when I say that these things can and will cost you your friends, your credibility, your reputation, your family, and your ministry. Be diligent in guarding your heart. Be tenacious when it comes to protecting your marriage. And always strive to be morally above board in all your dealings, ministry or otherwise.
In addition, be very careful how you treat and speak about another minister who has stumbled. Show the grace and love that you would want to be shown if the situation was reversed.
“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” – Proverbs 4:23
4. You Need Accountability
This is something that we as ministers hear all the time, but rarely use it effectively. We must have accountability in all areas of our lives. Men, if your wife doesn’t have the password to your phone, computer and all social networks that you are a part of, she needs to. (on a side note: and I know there are exceptions, but if you don’t have small children and you feel the need for a password on your phone, that’s a red flag.)
I have two guys in my life that I talk to on at least a weekly basis. We know the good, the bad, and the ugly about one another. I know I can call when I am struggling or when crisis hits my life and I trust them to speak the Truth in love to me. I know that they love me unconditionally, but they are not afraid to ask me tough questions or confront me when needed. If you don’t have a friend like that, find one.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17
5. You Still Have A Lot To Learn
No matter how many years of ministry you have under your belt of Truth, there are always ways you can improve your ministry. If you are just starting out, listen and learn from some guys who have been in ministry a while. If you have been in ministry for a while, listen and learn from some of the younger guys who have some fresh, new ideas. The way you’ve always done it is not always the best way to keep doing it. Take some time, find a conference that you feel like will be a benefit to you in your ministry, and go. Ministry, technology, and culture are always changing. We need to be willing to adapt our ministries methods (without compromising the message) to effectively reach students. Never reach a point where you are unwilling to learn something new.
“Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.” – Proverbs 8:33
6. You Will Not Always Be Liked
I am a people pleaser by nature, so I struggle a lot with this one. Leading effectively does not equate with always being liked by everyone. There are going to be plenty of times in your ministry when students, parents, Church members, and even fellow staff members are not going to like a leadership decision that you make. You are called to honor God in your ministry. At times, that means making tough decisions and standing by them.
I’m not saying that you don’t take other people’s feelings into account. We are commanded by God to see others as more important than ourselves. But you cannot compromise your ministries integrity to save people’s feelings towards you. This is especially difficult when it comes to students. You are called to be their Student Minister, not their friend. That is a fine line to walk at times because those two roles cant always coexists.
“But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” – Acts 5:29
7. You Have To Be Genuine
A former pastor of mine once told me that, “Talent and ability will only take you so far in ministry. If you aren’t genuine with people, you will not be successful.” Especially with students, if you are not real with them, they will see right through you. You can’t stand up in front of a group of teenagers and plead with them to follow a pattern of life that you yourself aren’t living out in front of them. Your Student ministry will ultimately reflect its leader. If you compromise in your walk, your students will do the same. If you live out a life that is bold for Christ, you will inspire the same in your students. Be Real and your students will do the same.
“So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—maybe found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:7