The Disease Within Student Ministry

One of the things all Student Ministries deal with is constant change. Every year we graduate a class of seniors and inherit a new class of sixth (or seventh) graders. The reality is we lose some of our more mature disciples, while adding to the numbers of our more immature disciples.

the disease within student ministry

So that would be addition by subtraction…. my bad, I meant subtraction by addition. This is the constant cycle of turnover that we face as student disciple makers, and as the cycle turns it brings a subtle shift to our focus. We position a new class of seniors to take the reins of student leadership, and seek to integrate a new group of sixth graders into our ministry.

In essence we focus on leadership development, and student congregation retention. That makes sense too, because we want the older student leaders to model a mature faith to the younger ones, while trying to make sure we retain all our newbies. After all, today’s newbies are tomorrow’s student leaders within our ministries. So we seek to establish a cycle of continuous leadership development and number retention/growth.

This subtle shift of focus can even occur within the most structured Student Ministry, but I think it is in this ever so subtle shift of focus that a disease has infiltrated us. This disease has distracted us from our mission of seeing God glorified and enjoyed in the lives of our students and youth workers. It’s a disease that consumes every facet of Student Ministries, which includes our volunteer youth workers, how/what we teach, the execution of our small groups, and most importantly our students understanding of the supremacy of Jesus Christ.

I don’t have a name for this disease, but I know its symptoms. The symptoms are all concerned with how or what we focus on. Focus requires attention, applied energy, and an investment of time. What you focus on and how you focus on it will directly impact your students and volunteer youth workers, which in return will create your culture.

Here are some of the symptoms I have observed:

Symptom 1: The focus of raising-up and building student leaders

Do we want student leaders? Yes, we absolutely want them. Are we called to make leaders? No, we are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ that operate out of their faith in who He is and His great works.

Symptom 2: The focus of retaining students

Do we want all of our students along with their family and friends to come to know, love, and worship the Lord God? Yes, we desperately desire that. So shouldn’t we focus on doing everything we can to make sure the students don’t just return but return with their friends? No, we should focus on making disciples that go into their peer groups to make disciples.

Symptom 3: The focus of developing behaviors

Do we want our students to behave in a manner that reflects their faith? Yes, behavior is important. Then shouldn’t we teach behavior based lessons? No, the basis of all our teachings should be God, His works, and our new found identity in Jesus Christ.

Symptom 4: The focus of placing students first

Wait, we are a student ministry aren’t we? Absolutely, we love our students and hope to see them saved and sanctified. Then we should place our students first in our ministries? Absolutely not, we are disciples of Jesus Christ, and therefore He always comes first.

Remember the shift is subtle, and it grows out the best of intentions, but it can have retarding effects on our students desire to pursue Jesus Christ. In the coming posts I will further discuss my observations of these symptoms, their effect on our ministries, the Word of God that my views flow from, and what I think we can do to overcome this disease.

Ben Headshot

Ben Fawcett is a six year student ministry veteran, who is currently serving as the Associate Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Texas. He is currently enjoying typing this bio out in third person, and aspires to one day speak in only third person.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “The Disease Within Student Ministry

  1. *Then shouldn’t we teach behavior based lessons? No, the basis of all our teachings should be God, His works, and our new found identity in Jesus Christ.*

    This^ and Amen! Christianity is not Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
    I guess we could just ignore the notion of repentance from sin, of the unmerited favor that was given to us, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of sharing the truth to others, that is, the saving Gospel of our glorious Lord in Christ Jesus, of everything that encompasses Christianity, and the worship of the triune God of all creation. Rather, just focus on making people “feel” good, “feel” happy, “feel” secure, knowing that they will get along with if they follow these (insert instructions). Because if they don’t “feel” and “experience” these things, you are not preaching the Bible right.

    Great read brother Ben, great read!

    • Phil, agreed! Feelings come and go, and feelings can be deceptive. The Gospel, however, does not waiver. It is in this truth that we should “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

  2. Right on the nose boo. I did not know know who wrote this when I first started reading it but wasn’t surprised to see your bio. Nicely done. I couldn’t stop reading it. This is especially the case with my students right now I think. Maybe we’ve had our focus a little messed up. I’ll revisit our strategy & pray that God leads us in the direction HE wants to go & not the direction we want to go. Love you man. Jerry

  3. Great insight! It will help us look at our ministries with fresh eyes and hopefully see where our focus has shifted.

  4. Great post. You’re right – it’s a disease in our youth ministries today. Unfortunately, it reflects the disease that’s in our church overall.

    One of the things I’ve learned is that three things have to happen for effective spiritual growth. (1) Own my brokenness – get intimate with all the reasons why I need a Savior. (2) Learn who God is – and isn’t. Get to know His nature and character intimately. (3) Learn to relate to God and others effectively. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) gave us effective principles for living. Our teens – and adults – desperately need to learn those principles.

    • Larry, I agree, the church at large shares these same symptoms. May we faithfully diagnose them and move others toward hold Christ as supreme and preeminent.