Don’t Let Your Student Ministry Be A Birdfeeder

Biblical Training? Relationships? or Something Else?

As we all know, discipleship is a term that has been used in the church and ministry for a really long time now, but I have discovered during my time in ministry that it comes in all shapes and sizes. One of these moments happened last night for me when we were getting ready for our evening youth activities. Most of our students had already arrived and I was hanging out with them waiting on other volunteers and the rest of the students to show up. Our student ministry invests a lot of time and effort into the small group model of relationships and discipleship. But, as some student ministries do as well, we take the summer off from normal small group activities and I give my small group leaders the majority of the summer away from the ministry as a time to recharge, refocus, and spend time with their family.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my leaders walked in a little bit before service started and a student immediately saw him and ran over and gave him a hug and said that he had missed him all summer and was really glad that we were getting back into our normal small group routine. Seeing this from across the room gave me a small feeling of accomplishment and assurance that we are going in the right direction when it comes to relationships. Where does discipleship fall into place though? Does your ministry have the ability to have a strong relational foundation while being intentional in their discipleship efforts?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that, “Discipleship is a commitment to Christ. Because Christ exists, he must be followed.” (Bonhoeffer. “Discipleship”) This, translated into student ministry, is when the student becomes solely committed to Christ. Relationships can bring great change in lives through their personal choices, but where does the life change take place? Where do the students experience transformation in their lives? Ask many youth pastors or student pastors (depending on your name preference) and they would say that the goal for their ministry is to have students who share the Gospel of Jesus. While this is all well and good, are we just training audio recordings? A song that immediately comes to mind is from an artist by the name Derek Webb entitled “Mockingbird,” and the chorus goes like this:

“and i am like a mockingbird
i’ve got no new song to sing
and i am like an amplifier
i just tell you what i’ve heard
oh, i’m like a mockingbird”

Are we raising a generation of students that can recite a great deal of scripture and have the ability to share the Gospel of Jesus only? Or, are we working to develop a relational discipleship model that transcends the society of bird feeders and working toward the heart change of students within our ministries?

Defining a Disciple

In the most basic of terminology, a disciple can be defined by the use of scripture: “Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!'” (Matt 4:19 NLT) Jesus wasn’t beating around the bush when He made this claim. He wanted the disciples to learn from Him firsthand on how they could be genuine world changers for the sake of Christ… and they were. My fear in leading a student ministry for the past couple years has been, “am I really seeing change in these students? Am I giving them the ‘right answer’?” We must move to a point where discipleship is as prevalent in our group as is the mentality of a youth group playing games. Students aren’t needing a youth pastor that “gets them” or a youth pastor that is “fun.” If we are serious about discipleship, then it should bleed from everything we do in our ministry.

Play some games? How does it tie into your discipleship strategy?

Download a series off of or Download Youth Ministry? Did you pick that one for the content and how it tied into your long-term plan? Or did you purchase content to fill a gap in your teaching schedule? (I’ve been guilty here myself.)

If we are to train disciples, then we are to give them Jesus and the scriptures. They need more than this though. They need to understand: leadership, courage, wisdom vs. intelligence, and the desires of the heart vs. the longing of our spirit.

Developing a Road Map

One of the greatest things that I have ever been challenged to do is to lay out a ministry road map for spiritual development. Where do the kids that enter my student ministry in 6th grade start? Where do I want my graduates to be spiritually when they leave?

I honestly believe that the first step towards developing any type of road map for students is to lay out a solid foundation of a mission statement. This is what your student ministry aims to do at its very core. Our mission statement is Engage, Equip, and Encourage, and we strive to do at least one of those three in everything that we do.

First, we desire to engage students from every walk of life. We are not an elite club or an exclusive group. Our goal is to get our students to begin thinking about everyone that they come in contact with.

Second, we desire to equip our students with a solid biblical foundation of faith that can stand during the trials and temptations of life. This one is continuously being molded to fit the current need, but our aim for our students is to leave our student ministry with a contagious faith. We start with teaching core foundations with our 6th graders and our aim is to have them learning to defend their faith by the time they leave high school.

Finally, we encourage our students to be bold in their lives through their testimony and the environments that God places them in. This encouragement needs to be coming from our leaders as well as our students, but sometimes comes as one of the most difficult challenges due to the complete opposite being enforced in common culture. We aim for the encouragement that we teach to transcend past the simple ideal of “encouraging someone,” but instead showing the Love of Christ in everything they do to everyone that they come in contact with.

Now… how does this apply to a standard ministry setting? When we have a game night or night that strays away from our typical study, we are still engaging students by having our students bringing friends. We also encourage on those nights and look for opportunities for our leaders and students to pour into students and show them that they are not in their fight alone.

Where Do You Fit In?

Where does your ministry fall currently? Are you teaching head knowledge? Are you building relationships? Are you raising up a generation of believers that won’t waver in their faith?

I would love to hear where you are currently, and, if you have a mission statement, I would love to hear that as well in the comments below!

– Brent

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