I’ve been in student ministry for 15 years. I don’t have it all figured out yet, and indeed I probably never will. However, there’s one thing I think every successful student pastor does that I wanted to pass on to you wide-eyed, hopeful rookies out there.
I call it the rule of thirds. Every student minister should spend a roughly equal amount of time with each of three groups of people–parents, volunteers, and students.
Let’s face it–parents are more important than us. A student ministry that is not actively partnering with parents is destined for confusion, misunderstanding, doubt, and division. Those are strong words, but I mean them.
In my ministry, this partnership is aided by the fact that I get to be in front of parents preaching in our main worship service ten or twelve times a year. Not everyone gets this platform. However, it is simply too easy to communicate with parents not to. I have a text messaging database that is helpful for last-minute changes and follow-up questions for Sunday morning teaching. I send a monthly e-news through Mail Chimp that highlights upcoming events. We are doing an increasing amount of roundtable discussions and training events out in the community, because not just church folks are wondering what in the world’s going on with their kids.
There’s Facebook and Twitter and websites and tons of ways to equip parents to disciple their kids. Use your personal blog to communicate what other experts are saying, linking them to those resources so they can add them to their parenting toolbox.
Whatever you do, don’t neglect parents. I would wager that if we forget one of these three, this is the one. Stop! Spend a third of your time thinking about and ministering to the parents of your students.
I don’t care what size ministry you serve in, you need help! Even when I was a young guy just starting out with a youth group of less than a half dozen students I needed volunteers. They drove the church van and hosted events and baked cookies.
I’m old enough to drive a church van now, but I can’t drive all of them or pick up three at a time from the rental place. I can’t lead fourteen small groups. I can’t teach every week. I certainly can’t play instruments and sing and I don’t know a ton about technology. I can’t run our cafe and do check-in and do follow-up and reach out personally to every student and plan every event and single-handedly watch every kid that’s at every event.
So you’ve got to build a team. Spend a third of your time doing this. Lead a small group that includes all your volunteers, go out to eat together, send personal notes of gratitude, ask them how their study went, and throw parties every now and then. Weekly communicate via e-mail. Don’t waste their time. Laugh with them. Visit them when they or their family is in the hospital. Model for them the kind of leadership you want them to provide for their classes or groups or huddles or whatever it is you call them.
I save students for last because most guys and gals in student ministry spend about 90% of their time working directly with kids. In your setting this might serve you well. Particularly as ministries grow, though, you have to spend less if you’re going to lead well. To adequately build team and inspire parents means taking less time drinking smoothies with students. This is an unpopular take, but it’s a no-brainer if you want your ministry to last beyond you.
Students will probably still think you’re the stuff. Don’t get a big head. Spend energy integrating them into the life of the whole church. Introduce them to other adults that you know they’ll have affinity with. Make it about them and not you. I think sometimes we buy student’s lunch and take them for frozen yogurt and have them over at our house because it makes us feel important, not because it’s in their best interests.
I think a third of our time should be spent directly with students or on lesson prep or some other element that will benefit students directly. But to spend much more than that probably means you are either in need of their affirmation, neglected another important component of your ministry, or both.
Sit down and reflect on your week. How did you spend your time? Did you give equal attention to each of these three groups? How can you move toward more balanced attention?