Spiritual formation in Youth Ministry

The effectiveness of ministry to young adults has recently been called into question in many Christian circles. The student pastor who ministers to ages 12-18, have felt the brunt of these questions. Many books and blogs continue to roll out the statistics that reveal the diminishing number of students who remain in church after their time in student ministry. A large number of churches have had a complete reevaluation of how their student ministry is run, what their primary purpose is, and even to the extreme if they should exist or not.

As a student pastor, I not only believe that this questioning and reevaluation is beneficial for the future of student ministry, but it is necessary.

Through this reevaluation process, a large amount of ink has been spilled over the viability of student ministry, the purpose of student ministry, and the reformation of student ministry. Although all of these pursuits have been personally beneficial to myself, I have realized that there is an area that has received little to no attention in regards to writing, research, and reevaluation. The area that is currently suffering from attention deficit disorder (like many of my 7th graders) is the area of spiritual formation in student ministry. I believe this reveals two issues about the current reevaluation occurring in student ministry.

The first is that this lack of attention is due to the shortage of thinking theologically about ministering to students.The student pastor is largely undertrained, undereducated, undermentored, and underprepared, which inevitably leads to a complete lack in theological thinking. The second issue that is revealed through the lack of attention towards spiritual formation is that student pastors are more concerned about fixing the engine than checking the fuel. Fuel is what propels you in a certain direction. All student ministries are engines, but not all engines run on the same fuel. One student ministry engine might run entirely off relationships and community, while another might run off of large events and attractional mindsets. Whatever the case may be, a student ministry must reevaluate the fuel that is propelling it forward. If we don’t, the ministry we are apart of might think that it is guiding students and parents towards spiritual formation, but end up producing immature church consumers.

I believe this is exactly where student ministry finds itself currently. The engine was running and student ministries were at record numbers, but the fuel that was moving it was consumerism, entertainment, and sermons teaching moralistic therapeutic deism. Now, student ministers are faced with statistics of the incredible dropout rates and are forced to look around and ask,

“How did we end up here and how do I navigate out?”


This is where the re-evaluation and reformation of the fuel is currently happening, but unfortunately what I see as the most important fuel for a student ministry is largely passed over. A student minister will spend days and even weeks thinking up bigger and better events, but never think theologically through the spiritual formation processes at work in his ministry. A ministry must destroy the cheap fuels of consumerism, entertainment, and moralistic therapeutic deism that is propelling its’ engines and replace it with gospel-centered spiritual formation fuel. From this reevaluation of what makes up the central role of student ministries, it is evident that spiritual formation should be the fuel in the student ministry engine.

This reevaluation of student ministry has caused critics to ask the question of “why does student ministry exist?” The question is not wrong, but our attempts to answer this question as student pastors has been poor at best. It is impossible to prove the existence of student ministry through Scripture, unless you adopt a flawed hermeneutic, so stop trying. Instead, realize that student ministry exists wholly because our culture created a people group labeled adolescence. Student ministry is a missional response, not a biblical command. The church’s missional response to this culturally created group of people called adolescents is what we currently call student ministry. The birthing of student ministry was a missional answer to the question,

“How do we spiritually form this new group of people?”


The birth of student ministry was for this specific purpose and it is not until much later we see diversions to ideologies of “reaching” this generation or “getting them in the door.” We must abandon the ideologies of just getting students in the church or at events and start again thinking theologically about how to most effectively engage in the practices of spiritual formation with adolescents. My belief is that effective spiritual formation in student ministry must include: corporate worship, life together, and serving others.


This guest post was submitted by Jonathan Holmes believer of the gospel of Jesus Christ, husband to Amber Holmes, student pastor at Wildwood Church, ThM graduate of Dallas Seminary, Co-founder of NYW Hub, collector of books, lover of technology, typer of thoughts


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