Student ministry is challenging work. I don’t know about you, but I am often asked by people who learn that I serve with students: “Why would you ever want to do that?”
Teenagers can be difficult. They come with lots of drama, attitude and other challenges. Yet as those serving students, we are called not only to love students despite their struggles but to faithfully point them to Jesus.
What the questioners don’t understand is that student ministry truly is the greatest blessing, and pouring the Gospel into the next generation is a task of utmost importance.
In the ideal world, many of us who are seeking to love students through student ministry only get a short time and a short window into a student’s spiritual journey.
Depending on your church programming set up, you may only see students for a few hours a week with many students only attending a couple weeks in a month.
Our time is limited not only by the busy schedule of our students, but we have a limited window of ministry as well.
Unlike adult ministry, student ministry focuses on a mere six to seven years of time (depending on how your community defines middle school and high school). Our time is ticking.
During the middle school and high school years, students are at a place of great transition. They are trying to determine who they are, what they believe, what matters to them.
Students are beginning to make the decisions and to embrace the beliefs that will define who they will become as adults. We have the opportunity to speak into the lives of our students at what is truly a critical time, yet our time is ticking.
In the middle of the limited time, we must realize that sometimes we will not be able to see the big picture of a student’s spiritual journey.
As the parents stand front and center in the unfolding story of a student’s walk with Jesus, we simply stand in a small moment in the process.
So how do we find encouragement in the fact that our ministry, no matter how fruitful it is, only lasts a moment?
In the midst of a church arguing about who was the most persuasive leader who should be followed by the church at Corinth, Paul speaks a truth about the process of ministry that helps us to redefine our role in the process. He says:
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” 1 Corinthians 3:6 (ESV).
In this passage, we see that there are multiple players in a person’s spiritual growth.
In the context of church student ministry, our students may have been influenced by the leaders in the children’s ministry.
They are currently being ministered to by us, and one day we will pass them along to a college ministry or another church as they move away.
The growth of a student spiritually is influenced by multiple players that God provides over the course of a lifetime.
When I think of my own life, I can think of mentors and leaders that God gave me for a season.
My youth pastor in high school was a great mentor and teacher for me. Yet he is no longer the primary spiritual mentor in my life.
As time has gone on, God has been providing new people to journey alongside me as I have grown in my own journey of personal discipleship.
However, in the journey of discipleship, there is one constant player: Jesus. He is the One we are ultimately calling students to follow anyway. Jesus is the One who is faithful.
Despite our own best efforts and planning, it is Jesus who truly applies truth to the lives of our students and brings them to experience growth. Jesus is also the only One who successfully lived the Christian life.
In our students’ journey of discipleship, we call them to embrace the ultimate leader: Jesus. His call to “follow Me” extends not only to us as leaders but to our students as we seek to point them to Him.
Just as we can trust Jesus for our own personal growth in the faith, we can trust Him for our students’ growth in the faith.
So, with the time ticking, we seek to maximize our impact by teaching the truth of the Gospel, pointing our students to following Jesus and seeking God’s divine intervention in the lives of students through prayer.
We are blessed to be able to join Jesus in His work of discipleship in the lives of our students, but we must never forget that it is truly His work.
We must learn to embrace the process of discipleship — a process in which we are never the primary player. Yet we have been invited to be one of the many spiritual mentors that God has chosen for the spiritual journeys of our students. Let us not take this opportunity lightly, and let us be faithful to point students to Him.
Ben Birdsong serves as the minister of students at Meadow Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham.