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In this article, I’m going to attempt to create a cheat-sheet for new Student Pastors, and I’m basing it off of what God has shown me and taught me through my limited experience in Ministry. I, in no way claim to know it all, but I’ve served in this particular role at several churches; ranging from 100 members to 58,000 members, so hopefully wherever you may be in your journey, these nuggets will be beneficial to you and your ministry.
The 75 most important things you need to know about Student Ministry is:
1. If God calls you into Ministry, nothing else can call you out of ministry. You’ll be surprised how quickly Satan will give you a chance to leave the ministry once you get in it. Business opportunities, chances to make more money, etc., but don’t be fooled into leaving the path God called you to walk on.
2. If your ministry becomes your God, your work becomes hurtful instead of helpful. Ministry isn’t the place for counting noses. Don’t get consumed with numbers… stay consumed with hearts. Be careful with your schedule and don’t overwork or you will soon become overwhelmed. Most ministers are builders and we get preoccupied with ‘building’ something for the sake of growth rather than ‘building’ for the sake of the Kingdom. When we lose our focus on who we’re serving and why we’re serving, it’s easy to start worshipping the wrong god. God is God, your ministry isn’t.
3. Your priorities have to be God first, Family second and Ministry third. If these get out of order, you will be in big trouble. And you can’t just say this is your priority list; you have to live it. The greatest evidence of what you’re truly committed to is your lifestyle. Gauge the way you spend your time; What are you usually thinking about? What are you typically praying for or planning for? Family things or Church things? It’s okay if it’s both, but don’t become lob-sided when it comes to your time because your time usually determines your affections.
4. Don’t be 20-stupid. For whatever reason, when you’re young and in ministry, you think you know more than you do and you’ll die on hills you have no business being on, much less dying on.
5. Surround yourself with wisdom. Spend time with people wiser and more experienced than you.
6. Dress like a professional minister, not an adult High School kid. Your appearance will either command respect or prevent respect. You may think the holes in your jeans win you cool points with the students, but in reality, it’s weird to a teenager when an ‘old guy’ is trying to relate by dressing like him. It’s not as prevalent a problem with Female Youth Pastors, but the point is still true. Would you wear Pajama bottoms to a staff meeting?
7. Go above and beyond when it comes to personal accountability. An accountability partner isn’t enough anymore. You need accountability software on your computer, iPad, smart phone, etc. You need someone to ask tough questions weekly & you need to commit to be truthful if you’re really committed to your ministry & your family.
8. You should never be alone with a student. We live in a dangerous world. It’s a world where one accusation can destroy you and your ministry, therefore, protect yourself and never find yourself alone with a student (male or female). You say, “How am I supposed to disciple ‘so-and-so’?” Disciple them at Starbucks or in a public place. Disciple them in your office with the door open (as long as someone else is in vicinity). It’s not worth the risk.
9. Don’t ride alone in a car with a female that isn’t your wife, or a male that isn’t your Husband. You may think this is overboard, but it’s another way to protect yourself. Perception is reality in many ways and it doesn’t send the right message when you’re driving around car with a member of the opposite sex that is not your spouse.
10. Do Ministry on Purpose. Plan ahead and know where you’re going in your ministry. It’s easy to fly under the radar and fly by the seat of your pants in Student Ministry, but if you don’t know where you’re going, your ministry won’t amount to much.
11. Prepare well for your message. Don’t procrastinate in this area. Take God’s Word seriously as well as your calling to teach it. When we are unprepared in teaching God’s Word, we are choosing to play with fire. Be prepared.
12. Make your net as big as you can. If you do one thing really well, just think about what your ministry would look like if you did two things really well. If Wednesday nights are your bread and butter, don’t become content with just that, begin looking for ways to supplement Wednesday nights and take your ministry to the next level.
13. Don’t be afraid of Big Events. Many young Student Pastors come into ministry saying, “I don’t want to lead an event-focused ministry,” but when they avoid big events, in many ways they avoid reaching new students. Don’t be afraid to do big events, but only do them if you can do them well.
14. When doing a Big Event, always consider the Velcro Effect. Anybody can draw a crowd, but you need to create a plan to make them stick.
15. Your ministry can’t be all about evangelism and it can’t be all about discipleship… It’s got to be about BOTH. You can’t disciple kids if you’re not seeing kids saved. And you can’t call it discipleship if you’re not leading your students to bring their friends to Christ. Do both… and do them well.
16. Your vision for the Student Ministry has to fall under the vision & leadership of the Senior Pastor. If you can’t lead your ministry under the vision of the church and that set by the Senior Pastor, you need to either alter your plan or go somewhere else.
17. Yes, you were called by God, but you work for you Senior Pastor. Always be loyal to your Senior Pastor; in conversations with students, church members, or random people in the community. If God called you to a church, you should always submit to the leadership of that church and the Senior Pastor (unless there’s an ethical issue that is yet to be exposed).
18. Potential is not maximized in isolation, it’s maximized in collaboration. If you want to do something bigger than yourself, it’s going to take more than you. Learn the importance of collaboration and learn how to work well with others. If you do, together you’ll accomplish much more than you would by yourself.
19. The greatest message you’ll ever preach is your lifestyle. Your lifestyle is evidence of your commitment to Christ or your lack of commitment to Him. Live in a way that inspires people to walk closer to Christ in their own lives.
20. Deacons can be your best friends or your worst enemies. In ministry, it’s great to have friends, so work hard to befriend the men who have pledged to serve alongside you.
21. Great Adult Leaders are one of the keys to establishing an effective Student Ministry. It’s better to have nobody that to have someone less than average. And to take it a step further; a volunteer adult leader who isn’t called by God to serve and who doesn’t have a passion for students is a poison to your ministry. Recruit leaders, not just volunteers… and especially not parents who are there solely to spy on their kids.
22. A great facility is nice, but if that’s all you have, the momentum you have won’t last long. Many guys think the key to growing a big student ministry is to build a rock wall or a sand volleyball court. Don’t get fooled into falling in this trap.
23. Stay humble. The scariest thing about experiencing success happens when young Pastors start believing the compliments they receive and begin thinking they’re more impressive than they really are. If God is blessing your ministry, He’s blessing it despite you. Stay humble if you want to continue experiencing His favor, because He makes it pretty clear in 1 Peter 5:7 that he opposes the proud. You don’t want that.
24. If you are going to reach students, you have to go where they are. Campus Ministry isn’t optional if you’re on my team. The reason why we do that is pretty simple: That’s where the kids are. They’re at football practice. They’re on the soccer field or practicing for the school musical. If we aren’t committed enough to go where they are, how can we expect them to be committed enough to come to us?
25. If you don’t challenge your students to do something great, they’ll continue to under-achieve in what God called them to. Students accept great challenges and they demonstrate commitment in many areas of their lives. Ask their football coach or their choir teacher if they’re committed. You know what? They are. They committed because somebody challenged them to commit. They’ll do the same in your ministry if you’ll personally challenge them.
26. The best place to challenge a student is in their living room. When you take time out of your schedule, away from your family to visit a student in his/her home, it shows that you value that student and believe they’re capable of something great. Don’t call them or text them. The easy option usually doesn’t deliver the best results.
27. Missions: Look for ways to serve alongside your students. When you get your hands dirty and serve alongside your kids, it creates a bond that doesn’t happen otherwise. Find ways to serve together.
28. Parents are not the enemy… They are the partner. When I first got into ministry, I thought the parents were the enemies. They would critique and criticize. They would prevent students from showing up and complain when we went late. When you find yourself doing ministry apart from parents, you will hinder your ministry from experiencing it’s maximum potential. Learn to partner with parents rather than compete with them.
29. The Devil didn’t create Para-church ministries. Student Pastors are bred to hate para-church ministries. We get upset because Young Life does their camp the same week we’re doing our camp. We’re mad because FCA has a fellowship on Wednesday nights when we typically meet… Listen, nobody wins when we start competing with one another in ministry. Talk to each other. Partner with them and find ways to collaborate instead of compete.
30. Girl’s Ministry is Essential. As a male Pastor, it’s easy to forget about the girls. It’s because we don’t know what to do with girls. We can put together a great flag football tournament. We’re the best at hosting a Hot Wing Eating Contest or a camp out paired with a paintball event. But here’s the deal, girls make up an average of 63% of most Student Ministries and if we aren’t intentional in ministering to them, we’re foolish.
30A. Boys Ministry is Essential. We’ve seen Youth Ministries led by Female Youth Pastors that focus too heavily on relating to girls. There must be a balance.
31. If Change is Necessary… Change Smart. Sometimes we walk into a ministry that needs a major overhaul. In our mind, everything has to change. That’s okay, but as the leader of that ministry, you better know how to change wisely. Read the people and find out what’s important to them. You may need to wait 6 months and build a little report with the people before you begin tearing down their traditions and temples. Other times, it may be best to level everything and start fresh. In order to make that call, you have to be in tune with the people you’re serving. It’s a case-by-case principle, but be sure you’re being careful here.
32. Even though your family always comes first, don’t use your family as an excuse to be lazy. I’ve met so many lazy Student Pastors who use their kids as an excuse to work 20 hours a week. That wouldn’t fly if you worked at Home Depot, why should it fly at the Church? Be a good husband. Be a good Dad. But don’t use your ‘family time’ as an excuse for your laziness.
33. Please step away from the Mini-Fridge. Nobody expects you to be a fitness model, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat every cookie in the office. Eat good food and take good care of your body. It’s the only one you have. Your ministry can actually last longer and be more effective if you’re healthy. Think about it.
34. Don’t treat your Interns like Slaves. Intern means Opportunity. Not really, but I think it should mean that. For the Intern, it’s an opportunity to learn and cut their teeth in ministry. But for you, it’s an opportunity as well; an opportunity to invest in that person, to teach them and to demonstrate and exemplify to them what Pastoring people looks like. Take this opportunity for leadership seriously and don’t abuse the limited power you have.
35. Expose your kids to your ministry. If you’re going to make a home visit, bring your kids. If you’re going to a High School football game to see some students, bring your kids. Bring them as often as you can and expose them to your ministry. If you can do this well, they’ll look at it as their ministry also.
36. Open up your home as often as you can. If God provided you with a home, surely he didn’t want you to keep it all to yourself. Open it up and invite students (in groups) to come over. Share a meal together. Play games together. Show them what Christianity looks like in real life.
37. Find out where you’re wasting the most time. You may be at church for 50 hours a week, but how many of those hours are you actually working? Where do you waste the most time? If you’re on Facebook for an hour a day and chose to eliminate that time, just imagine the additional ministry you could be a part of. Don’t waste time.
38. Read good books. There are a lot of great resources out there that will challenge you and grow you in your journey. Take advantage of these resources and always keep a book close.
39. Don’t get so busy ‘Pastoring’ that you forget to have a quiet time. It even sounds weird, but for some reason, we get so busy trying to make God famous that we can actually forget to spend time with Him. Carve out time where you can read Scripture and be challenged personally each day.
40. Use your hobbies to connect with people. If you golf, find students/adult leaders/parents that enjoy golfing. If you hunt, don’t hunt alone, use a hunting trip as a way to connect with people.
41. Treat ministry meetings the same way you treat a sermon. If you’re not prepared for a sermon, everyone can tell. In the same way, if you’re not prepared for a meeting, you just communicated to your entire team that the meeting isn’t very important. As the leader of your ministry, you’ve got to be well prepared to lead your people. Always have a handout for your meeting with everything itemized and encourage your team to take good notes.
42. A hand written note is more valuable than you’ll ever know. When someone takes you to lunch or encourages you in the hallway, write them a hand written note. When you do so, it communicates an authentic appreciation. It doesn’t matter who they are; they want to be appreciated.
43. Practice Personal Evangelism. Every day offers another opportunity to share Jesus with someone. If we aren’t telling the people around us about Christ, how can we lead our students to share Him with their friends and families? Look for opportunities to share, not only when you’re with students, but when you’re alone. Practice. Practice. Practice.
44. Fun should be a staple of Student Ministry, but don’t make Fun the Goal. Every youth service doesn’t have to have a game. You shouldn’t have to keep kids laughing in order to keep their attention. The Gospel is pretty effective and we lose when we avoid the Gospel because it’s not entertaining enough to capture the attention of our students.
45. Videos are great supplements in Student Ministry, but have wisdom in your prioritization. It’s easy to spend 15-20 hours making a great video, and we’ve all been there. We work hard, spend time on it and then we show it to our students. In a matter of 3 minutes, the video is over and we’ve just sacrificed a ton of ministry time to make it happen. If you have a Video Guy on your team, more power to you. If you’re flying solo, don’t sacrifice too much time for the sake of a good video. *There are a ton of great companies out there that supply these videos for pretty cheap.
46. Budget with the big picture in mind. As a young Student Pastor, I saw one number when I looked at my budget… the big number on the bottom. What I didn’t realize was the dollar amount listed wasn’t really there. It was contingent on the giving for the year. So I broke it down by month and came up with an approximate dollar figure that I would have to do ministry. Plan your ministry events & expenditures based off of a conservative dollar amount, because if the dollars don’t come in, the ministry must still continue. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
47. Take time to date your Spouse. Most of us live lives where we are gone a lot. We work odd hours and have games and events we’ve got to attend. But no matter how busy you get, always make time to date your spouse. I’d encourage you to have a night marked off on your calendar each week and then tell you to protect that night. Things will happen periodically that prevent date night from happening, and that’s okay, but for the most part, you need to be intentional when it comes to spending alone time with your significant other.
48. Visit other Student Ministries and collaborate with other Student Pastors. One of the best things I ever did as a Student Pastor was to join a group of other Student Pastors in something we call METRO. It’s 49 guys who lead some of the leading ministries in the country and these guys have become some of my best friends throughout the years. They sharpen me, mentor me, challenge me and when I get to a place where I’m stuck in ministry… I just steal one of their ideas. 🙂 Find a network of guys like this and you’ll be better for it.
49. Cross Ventilation is better than Civil War. When you fight & compete with the other ministries of your church, nobody wins. When you partner with the Children’s Pastor, the College Pastor, and the Married Adult Pastor, through cross ventilating, your ministry can become exponential.
50. Social Media isn’t the place to express yourself. Remember, your identity online is just as important as your identity in person. To many people, you are who you are online, therefore, be wise in what you type and what you post. You may love an R rated movie, but that doesn’t mean you need to list it as a favorite on Facebook. You may think that inappropriate ‘that’s what she said’ joke was funny, but when you tweet it, that humor then defines you. Be careful when you’re online.
51. Stay in your own lane. It’s kind of like driving; when you get out of your lane, things get real bad real quick. As a member of a staff team, you’ve got to know when to speak and when to listen. You need to be able to discern what is your responsibility and what isn’t. Stay in your own lane!
52. Always live within your means. It seems like every church has members with the last name “Jones” and you’ve got to make sure you don’t begin trying to “keep up with the Jones’!” The Jones’ have more money than you. Don’t spend money you don’t have to buy things you don’t need just to impress people around you.
53. Get out of debt and stay out of debt. My wife and I learned real quick that credit cards can hurt a marriage and it can distract from a ministry. We went to a ‘cash envelope’ system when we were married just a year or so, and the rule was, when the envelope was empty, we were through spending.
54. Place your value on the most important things. For instance, in ministry, it’s easy to get distracted on minuscule things, but if you remember why God called you into ministry (the important things), you’ll prevent yourself from getting side tracked. For me, I’ve got to constantly remind myself that I’m doing this to see lives changed (salvation and discipleship). When I forget that, I’m probably wasting time in my ministry.
55. Set great goals. I didn’t say to set easy goals or obtainable goals, I said set GREAT goals. If you set a goal that you know you can hit, you won’t rely on God to hit it. If you set a great goal, one that you know will be impossible without supernatural help, it will cause you to press into Christ like you should have been doing the entire time.
56. Don’t let your cell phone become an enemy to your family. Technology has provided many great tools that we can use in our ministry. Now a days, just about every Student Pastor is carrying a smart phone, and on that phone we talk, we text, we tweet, we facebook, we skype, we LIVE LIFE. And when you live on your phone, it’s easy for your wife and family to naturally be irritated by the device we’re so attached to. Create good boundaries for while you’re at home. Make a sacrifice if necessary and find a way to disconnect from the world a little in order to connect with your family.
57. Be educated when it comes to your financial options as a Pastor and leverage that information for your families financial benefit. This country has given Pastors the right to forgo paying into Social Security once you’re ordained. This is a big decision for a Pastor, because it prevents them from drawing Social Security once they retire. However, it’s something to consider for a young Pastor. Also, know your options regarding salary verses housing allowances. When your taxable income is lessened and replaced by pre-taxed dollars, it allows the dollar to be stretched and your family will benefit from it.
58. Networking with local businesses is valuable. By creating this network, you’ll be able to partner with people in numerous ways. Over the years, I’ve been able to feed football teams for free, provide giveaways for big events, give free food coupons to our students, and more, without any cost to the ministry. People want to partner with you, but most of the time, you are going to have to initiate the relationship.
59. If someone says they don’t want you on their school campus, it doesn’t necessary mean you can’t go back. School officials are scared, and most of the time their fear is warranted. These people have been burned time and time again. It’s your job to show them you can be trusted. If they say don’t come to lunch, find out what time football practice is. If the football coach doesn’t want you at practice, find out what time FCA meets. Keep working to find open doors. Don’t give up just because you run into an obstacle or two.
60. When you’re on a School Campus, you MUST play by their rules. If their students aren’t allowed to wear jeans, neither are you. If their students aren’t allowed to have facial hair, then you need to consider shaving your goatee. (why do Student Pastors think they need to have a goatee anyways?) Follow their rules and you’ll get much further with the administration.
61. Take criticism well. Nobody likes to hear things about themselves that are critical. However, without constructive criticism there isn’t any room for growth. When someone challenges you through their critique, it shouldn’t dampen your spirit… it should motivate you toward growth. Allow the words of other to inspire you into something greater than you’re currently experiencing.
62. Keep the Sabbath. If God thought it was important enough to rest on the seventh day, He probably meant what he said when he told us to do the same. Rest. It’s a dirty word in our culture. You ask someone how they’re doing and the new ‘cool’ response is, “I’m busy!” It’s the reality of our world. Here’s the thing, we need to set the example when it comes to honoring this command of God. Rest, take a break… every week. Unplug, recharge, and your life will be better for it.
63. Hire for excellence not convenience. I’ll admit that I’ve made some hiring mistakes and every time I did so, it was the result of one reason–convenience. I needed someone to fill a spot and I felt like this guy would work. That’s ridiculous. When you’re in the people business called the church, you’ve got to understand that God expects our best as the one hiring, just as much as he expects the best of the one being hired. Have a great process in place to hire excellent people. Include other individuals in that process that have good judgement. Never get in a hurry to fill a position. Remember, it’s better to have nobody than it is to have someone less than excellent.
64. Don’t let the sun go down on an argument/disagreement. As you know, this is a biblical reference for marriage, but it’s the same in your ministry. If you let things simmer in your ministry, before too long, things will spin out of control. Nip it in the bud as soon as you see a problem exists.
65. Journal. It’s great to document your journey. Get a journal and write down the things you’re challenged with, the things God is showing you, the things your praying for, and goals you are setting for yourself and your ministry. It’s great to look back later and see the growth that has taken place.
66. Money can fund your vision, but shouldn’t determine it. Don’t be swayed by something as worthless as money. People will try to buy you, but it’s important to remember that you’ve already been bought.
67. Never underestimate the power of a listening ear. Most of the time, we are quick to speak and slow to listen. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do in a conversation; especially with a hurting student or parent is listen. Just listen.
68. Everyone doesn’t love students the way God called you to love students. We sometimes get frustrated when our adult volunteers seem flaky, but you’ve got to remember, it doesn’t mean they don’t love students. Don’t give up on someone just because their level of commitment doesn’t seem to match or equal yours. God gave you great passion so that you can bring people up to yourself and motivate them to increase their ministry by investing in students.
69. Student Ministry is more about families than it is about students. It really is all about families. You’re partnering with parents and investing in their current families. You’re investing in kids who will someday have families of their own. Orchestrate your ministry with the family in mind. Give them principles for life, not just for JHigh and High School, because your ministry will potentially help shape families.
70. Encourage Students; you may be the only encouragement in their life. We forget that our students live all sorts of lives. Many of them are verbally beaten down at home and school. Therefore, take every opportunity you get to encourage and build your students up.
71. Bigger isn’t always better. When I was a new Student Pastor, I would pass a big church every day on my way to work and think, “If I could only be at a church like that someday.” First of all, more people usually mean more problems. It means more time is required, more meetings are mandatory… My encouragement to you would be this: Enjoy your journey and remember that God has you right where He wants you. Be more concerned with being maximized where you are than focusing on where you’re going.
72. When you leave a church… leave well. One of the dumbest things you can do– invest your life in a church and lead a ministry for a season and then, on the way out the door, burn every bridge you worked so hard to create. If God called you there and then God called you away, you should be diligent to find ways to leave in a godly way. If you’re wise, you’ll work hard to leave well.
73. Being an incredible communicator means nothing if you don’t have relationships with the students in the audience. When I worked in Atlanta, my Pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley told me, “It’s much easier to Pastor people when you love people.” When you know your audience and even love your audience, it increases your effectiveness ten fold.
74. If your follow up process stinks, what’s the point in having an event? Every person who visits your ministry better receive a red-carpet treatment as you follow up with them. With our Student Ministry teams, I require at least 3 personal touches in the first 7 days after a student visits. A personal note, a phone call, a home visit… get creative, but be intentional on following up.
75. Never stop learning. When you decide you know it all in Student Ministry, you’ve just decided that it’s okay for your pride to prevent your ministry from thriving. Once again, God opposes the proud… and He wants us to seek wisdom and pursue more effective ways of doing what He’s called us to do. Also… continue your education. Think further down the road than your next big event and be prepared for whatever it is God calls you to.
As I neared the end of this list, I contacted a few friends to make sure I didn’t miss anything. In fact, I want to ask you the same question: “Youth Pastor, what is something you wish you would have known (that you know now) on the very first day you were in ministry?” Please leave a comment at the bottom. I’d like to thank a few guys who helped out and contributed to this list. Michael Head, Kelly Knouse, Justin Arbuckle, Brandon Harrison, Jeremy Little, Michael Wood, Matt Lawson, Brian Mills, Terry Kurtz, Alvin Reid, Derek Simposon, Matt Bowman, and Jonny Marks.
If you’re a Youth Pastor or know someone who is, please forward this to the people in your life you believe will benefit from it. I hope that as a result of this ‘cheat-sheet’ you’ll be able to experience even more fruitful ministry in the years to come.