I’m often asked about my thoughts regarding student ministry and student pastors. In my context, I am often talking with pastors and aspiring ministers at meetings, camps, and events. The discussion regarding the role of student ministry in churches today is becoming more regular.
I am the first to admit that the recent decades of dependence on programs to the neglect of parents has caused many students to walk away from the church once they leave the nest. An hour-long weekly environment of the church centered around Jesus cannot easily overpower a weeklong environment of the home that is not centered around Jesus.
While I admit that some aspects of student ministry need to be evaluated, edited, or eliminated, I am not one who desires to get rid of the entire paradigm. I believe that there is biblical teaching and cultural wisdom that shows the need for the home and the church to partner together for the discipleship of the next generations.
Many opponents to student ministry will rightfully comment: “Student pastors are not in the Bible.”
They are correct. Student pastors are not found in the Bible, but neither are the rest of our church staff positions.
Even the fact that we have a church “staff” should give us an indication that we are incorporating cultural practices into our way of doing church. Some of that is unavoidable. How far do you really want to take this line of thinking?
Whether we recognize it or admit it, we do have cultural leniencies in our churches. We don’t see that following our own arguments could actually shut down about all that we do.
We allow for more than we think we do.
- Will you commute using a car today?
- Going to contact someone through an electronic medium?
- Are you planning on using a microphone in front of people?
If you plan on doing any of that, you are going beyond what is taught in Scripture. Even if you plan on doing all the things in the name of ministry, you must realize that the first ministers were not doing those things, so you are in a philosophical conundrum even if you don’t realize it.
“Yeah, but those are methods. Those are tools.”
I would say the same thing about hiring a student pastor or incorporating a student ministry.
Extra-Biblical Church Practices
Whether we admit it or not, we all have extra-biblical church practices. They are not antagonistic to the Bible – they are simply absent in the Bible.
We do see signs of ministry to younger generations in the Bible. We do not see an organized student ministry or a student pastor though. But you know what else we don’t see?
- Staff Positions: Anyone found a job description in the Bible for Senior Pastor, Worship Pastor, Children’s Minister, Preschool Director, Administrative Assistant, Executive Pastor, Discipleship Pastor, Minister of Education, Facilities Manager, Family Pastor, Administrative Pastor, Mission Pastor, Custodian, Receptionist, Financial Secretary, Organist? Me neither. So if you say you have a problem with having a Student Pastor because it isn’t biblical and yet you salary any of the positions above, you might be in danger of leading from a biased and hypocritical bent. I understand the reasoning, but if you want to go down that path, you need to be thoroughly consistent and go all the way to where it ultimately leads. If you only highlight a certain position, it is a preference and not a principle.
- Buildings: Enjoying office space? Classrooms? Nursery? Gym? Worshiping together with hundreds of people in whatever you call your worship space (chapel, center, sanctuary, auditorium, etc.)? Do you utilize a screen, lights, or microphones? Do you print handouts on a church copier using WiFi? These are all great tools that are extra-biblical.
- Mediums: You are reading my thoughts on a blog. You probably clicked on it because it perked your interest on something like Facebook or Twitter. Most pastors would think it ridiculous to abstain from having a church website, video and audio recording equipment, podcast, marquee, bulletins, etc. “These are great resources to get the message out!” I agree, but there are other resources as well (and all of these are extra-biblical).
- Courses: Ever taught a course on doctrine? Ever led a class on evangelism? Ever hosted an event to further your people in specific areas of discipleship? These are not listed in the Bible, but we do them all the time. I praise God for them! My life is better because of them! But how can we host these events, lead certain courses, and target certain demographics to turnaround and say that it is wrong to target other demographics?
- Perks: I have worked at two great churches that have contributed to my retirement. My status as a minister gives me certain tax breaks. Our church is a registered 501c3 and allows us to be wise stewards of our opportunities and resources. I have always had the privilege to go on paid vacation. My health insurance has been provided. These are incredible ways to care for a church staff, and I am thankful for them, but these are extra-biblical. They are specific, tangible applications of general, biblical truths. 1 Cor. 9:14 and 1 Tim. 5:17-18 are descriptive portions of Scripture that highlight how individual churches were caring for their individual pastors. We take those truths and apply them in our context and expand upon them within our culture.
That should be the goal in church. We should take biblical truths and apply them in our context. Make sure to differentiate between what are truths, trends, and traditions. Don’t elevate what is cultural and equate it with what is biblical.
If You Have a Student Pastor
If you have a student pastor, ask these questions to gauge your ministry practices against biblical principles:
- Is the student pastor biblically qualified? The Bible is clear regarding the qualifications of a pastor (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). This pastor should be seen as a pastor to all but an intentional amount of focus on parents of students and those students (notice my order there).
- Does the student ministry supplement family discipleship? In Psalm 127 (a song of ascents), the priests are telling people when they leave their house to come into God’s house that if they aren’t making much of God in the home, they are traveling to worship in vain (Ps. 127:1). Families shouldn’t supplement family ministries – family ministries should supplement families.
- Are we caring for the students whose parents aren’t disciples? Some kids are in trouble if we expect parents to do the job by themselves. The lack of so many disciple-making adults is one of the main reasons I think student ministry is beneficial. Many people’s faith stories have someone outside the family being the main discipler (Samuel – 1 Sam. 1:25; 2:11; 3:1; Elisha – 2 Ki. 12:9; Timothy – Acts 16:3; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:5; Apollos – Acts 18:24-26). Too many people say parents are supposed to do the job but failing to equip the parents to do the job. For those who aren’t going to be discipled in the home, we must take responsibility to disciple them in the church.
- Is the student ministry focused on discipleship? Any type of student ministry should be thought of as any other type of ministry within the church – the focus should be making disciples. Are we equipping parents and leaders to disciple students who will then disciple others (2 Tim. 2:2)? We should raise them up to be examples (1 Tim. 4:12) and train them in the Word regarding doctrines and disciplines (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
- Are the students connected with the body at large? The Body of Christ is multigenerational and our local churches should embrace that reality. We have much to learn from one another but that means we need to be around one another (Titus 2:2-7). Stay away from idolizing or demonizing extremes. In the ebb and flow of a church’s calendar and activities, it is probably beneficial to have times when you are intentional with ages and times when you are intentional to cross the generation gaps.
The list above is not exhaustive or authoritative. It is one pastor’s approach at standing upon the eternal truth and navigating through the cultural waters.
Your church needs to be convinced that your approach is biblical and intentional and not worried what others are doing.
You are responsible to God for the way you disciple others. Do it well. Do it with everything you got.