Christ-Centered Student Ministry


The following post outlines my personal ministry philosophy of the role of student ministry in the local church. I firmly believe this philosophy to be biblical as it was by God's grace that He lead me to it. I am not claiming that this is the most perfect and supreme model of student ministry. I understand that certain contexts, sometimes call for employing the same biblical truths but through different methods. What we do to teach truth and disciple believers in a white collar, upper middle class church in the suburbs can look a little different in a inner city church, minority church. I simply offer this as a tool to help you understand, what I believe Christ centered student ministry looks like. I also offer it to my friends, colleagues, and family as a way of seeing my heart on student ministry to help you understand where I come from in the decisions I make as a minister of the gospel.


Before I jump right into my philosophy, let me first give you some background to help you understand where my convictions come from and why I am writing this post.

When God first called me into student ministry near the end of my Seminary days, I had an overwhelming sense and desire to go back to the drawing board. You see, I didn't study student ministry in seminary. I studied languages. I believe that God was shaping me into a young man who had a heart and ability to work with teenagers, yet having the education of a pastor.

Not that I have anything against the education studies at seminary or even assume that I am more educated than other student pastors, God just happened to lead me down a different path. I believe He brought me down that path for a reason. Part of that reason was because He gave me a heart to do student ministry different than the other guys. Now, I don't want to make it sound like I am knocking the "other guys". I know and believe there are many fine student pastors out there that love students and preach truth. However, I sadly know of many who love the paycheck, fun, and the attention more than the students.

I grew up in a great student ministry and had a wonderful youth pastor. However, I can honestly say, as a person who was raised in the Baptist church, that I was borderline biblically illiterate until I went through seminary. That bothers me. Somewhere, somehow, something was wrong. Now, I'm not placing the blame completely on any one person. If anything, I have myself to blame for not listening. However, I believe the church as a whole has let teenagers down. We've assumed that all they want to do is play games, have fun, and not be challenged too much. They do like fun and games, but I have also discovered that they love truth and learning, even if they don't admit it. They love serving and making a difference, and not just on a small scale either. They like to know that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

As a church, we have lowered expectations for students. Thus, we've had student ministries over that past 20 years that have focused more on fun, events, being relevant, and teaching simple, non-controversial truths, rather than challenging students with solid discipleship, deep theological concepts, and developing a passion for sharing the gospel and loving those that need Christ.

As a result, the church has helped contribute to biblically illiterate Christians, unpassionate followers of the gospel, complacency and comfort, and even scarier, a culture of unsaved church members who have never truly experienced Jesus Christ. That's part of the reason we see so many teenagers become college students who begin to question their faith. They were never taught to defend it, own it, or even understand it to begin with.

Let me make two things clear! First, I reiterate the fact that I do not believe that all churches and all student ministries are in the wrong. Many are and have gotten away from Christ, as the center. However, I know some that are very Christ-centered and doing what I believe God has called us to do as ministers. Secondly, please know that the staggering statistics that we read about students leaving the church, baptisms being down, and the higher unchurched population is not all the fault of the church or the pastors.

Deuteronomy 6 is a direct call from God for the ministry and teaching of His truths to be done in the context of family. I believe families have dropped the ball enormously! Dads and Moms have passed the buck onto the church, when the responsibility lies on them! In fact, if Fathers truly did what God's word commands in Deuteronomy 6, you wouldn't need student pastors to teach and preach to students. Student pastors would be better suited in aiding the parents to teach their children truth and ministering to the family as a whole. However, because in our culture we have missed the boat so far on what the New Testament church is supposed to look like and what scripture commands, student pastors exist and are doing work that needs to be done by parents.

I like the direction that Lifeway is starting to go, in regards to student ministry. However, I don't completely follow with my brothers and friends at Lifeway on this strategy. While I do believe that we need to be more family oriented and work with parents, I think student pastors should use their talents and gifts to help evangelize and bring the gospel more to a youth culture that for the most part has grown up with parents who don't go to church, don't live moral lives, and don't have relationships with Christ. I believe God uses giftedness, and He has gifted guys with the ability to connect with teenagers in order to help teach them truth and point them to Christ. Ideally, this all should coincide with what parents are teaching their kids.

I want you to understand that I am very passionate about what I do. I am a student pastor who has a plan. I know guys that don't have plans. They shoot from the hip and try to be cool. Everything I do in ministry, from the sharing of the gospel, to the worship planning, to the conferences with parents, to the fellowship and fun, to the videos, to the mission trip planning, to the Starbucks visit with a student, to the ballgames I attend, and to the studying is all a part of a much greater plan that I believe God has instilled in me to help further His Kingdom.

I'm not saying that I have it all figured out or that I am perfect. Again, I just want you to know my heart. God gave me this philosophy of ministry before I ever stepped foot into a church staff position. It has changed somewhat over the past 4 years, as God has continued to teach me what He desires for me to do as a minister of His gospel. However, for the most part it has remained similar and at the forefront of all I do in the ministry.

I share this as a tool for youth pastors. Maybe you're new to student ministry and you're looking for help and direction. This could be something God uses. I share this with my dear friends and family so that you are reminded of this calling God has placed on my heart and you can be praying for me. I also share this with critics. I had a friend criticize the ministry God has entrusted me with the other day. He did so in complete ignorance. Sadly, it is evident that this friend is under the influence of the enemy. His ultimate intentions are good and I do believe he is saved, but it seems by his words and action that he has allowed pride to cloud his judgment and the Holy Spirit's conviction. However, I understand that sometimes outsiders, people that aren't completely connected to the ministry I shepherd, and even parents may not know my heart and why I do things the way I do, because I don't share it enough. So this is also an attempt to show you this inner working of my philosophy of ministry.

Ultimately, I share this because I believe God wants me to. It has been a long time coming. I believe God has been wanting me to share this for months now through the format of this blog. I understand that it is possible only 25-30 people (if my counter statistics are right) may see and read this. However, I am not going to assume God's full will and purpose for using this post. We'll just have to wait and see.


Ephesians 4:11-12, "And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ".

God has called me to equip students to be leaders in the work of His ministry by glorifying Him, and fulfilling His mission of making Christ-following disciples.

That's the simple statement. However, there's a lot that goes into that thought which I want to spell out for you. This philosophy basically fits under two major umbrellas:
1. Glorifying God: This is our purpose. This is the major umbrella under which all that we do should fit.
2. Missional Living: This is our call. Our purpose should lead us to fulfill our call.

I. Glorifying God (The Purpose)

First and foremost the worship of God is our utmost call. In order to help equip and raise up a generation of Kingdom minded believers, I must exemplify a life of worship, bring our students together in corporate worship, and point everything that we do to God. We model and practice this in the following ways:

1. Honest Teaching of His Word: The bible must be taught, not just moral nuggets or happy proverbs, but the bible in its entirety, in its context. God's truths must be meditated on, brought out, and preached. This is something I always strive to practice. I make Wednesday night messages deep. I challenge students to think and sometimes I tell them what they don't want to hear. The scripture is sometimes offensive. We can't shy away from that. I know too many contemporaries that only preach encouraging and uplifting messages. Those definitely have their place, because as the bible is sometimes offensive and can leave us in a state of brokenness, it also exhorts and gives joy. Too many guys are preaching soft, feel-good devotionals and drawing in crowds, but those crowds are leaving with no depth and truth. My commitment is to preach it all, the hard passages, along with the easy passages. We recently took our high schoolers and middle schoolers through the entire book of Nehemiah and Malachi, expositionally. Malachi has some hard concepts for middle schoolers to handle, but its amazing to watch the Holy Spirit bridge the connection and help teens understand even the difficult passages.
Good solid biblical teaching also occurs through Sunday School and Sunday Night small group ministry. I'm not an advocate for cancelling Sunday nights. I believe in taking advantage of the three major traditional church times and seeing that the Word is taught in them all.

2. Commitment to Prayer: There is power in prayer. James 5:16 says, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." The reason prayer is powerful is because it is a connection to God. God is the power source! When my prayer time has slipped, I can see the effect it has on the ministry. We take every advantage we can to pray with students. It happens throughout our worship services. It is happening with our staff. We even have a commitment to extended prayer time with students before our Wednesday night services. This time of prayer is important for us to focus our thoughts and allow our minds to connect with the Spirit's moving.

3. Worship: I believe worship is glorifying God and much more than singing songs during a service. So in a sense, the preaching of His word and prayer should fit into this category. However, I wanted to separate this category in order to focus specifically on corporate worship. I take corporate worship very seriously. It is thought out carefully, but it is also planned with the understanding that God may move differently than expected. Worship planning needs to be done prayerfully, with the Spirit's guidance. Our student ministry has worship on Wednesday nights, not a club meeting or a hangout time, we have WORSHIP! I do believe in using creativity, humor, and the occasional competition to connect with students during a typical worship meeting, but those are just tools to get us to the worship and in the Word. Besides that, those only make up a tiny fraction of what happens. The focus is on worship! Worship is crucial part to the ministry. Our worship for retreats and events like Disciple Now and camp is thought out carefully.

II. Missional Living (The Call)

Missional living is another way that we glorify God. So, this basically fits under the umbrella of the first category. However, I think its important to distinguish between the "faith" part of glorification which comes through reading the word, prayer, and worship and the "action" that occurs as a result in the process of glorification. Yes, preaching the word, prayer, and worship are actions, but there are deeds that come from the practice of these things. When we read those familiar passages in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8 we see the specific calling that Christ has called all Christians to. It is a calling to live each moment of life missionally, sharing the gospel and making disciples. In terms of the calling, there are two basic directions we go: 1. Sharing Christ with Unbelievers, and 2. Teaching What Christ Commanded to Believers.

So under the missional umbrella, I have two sub-categories of the direction I go in student ministry.

1. Sharing Christ with Unbelievers: This includes practicing and teaching students personal evangelism, along with giving them opportunities to share their faith. I also live under the conviction to share my faith with students, as well as any unbelievers I come in contact with. I believe evangelism should be a lifestyle. It should come through in all our interactions, by practicing what Christ taught as the most important commandment in Matthew 22:37-40 "Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love others as you would love yourself".

In addition to personal evangelism, I believe in offering an invitation as often as possible. I know guys that don't even offer an invitation. Some believe that student ministry invitations are too manipulative and play on emotions. Some believe they are too redundant and ineffective. I do not believe in making an invitation manipulative or playing upon the emotions of students. I simply share the truth of the gospel and give students an opportunity to respond, usually in tied together with the message from the Word for that particular night or event.

I think its important to give students opportunities to do missions and serve. I've taken students on mission trips in which we've knocked on doors and shared our faith. I've also done trips where we have served a certain community or group with the intention of exemplifying the love of Christ. In 2010, our student ministry is dropping random fellowship events from our calendar and replacing them with missional projects in which we focus on serving our community. Fellowship is important too, as I will discuss later. However, I believe fellowship is a means God has given us to accomplish the purpose and the call.

From local missions to foreign missions, its important for students to understand the urgency and importance of praying for missionaries and being a missionary in whatever setting God calls them to. Many times, its their classrooms, athletic fields, and families. We've also got to have the understanding that our mission field is the American church too!

2. Teaching What Christ Commanded to Believers: Once a person accepts Christ and is radically transformed, we begin the process of discipling them. As Christ commands, it is our calling to teach them to obey what Christ has commanded. In many ways this includes a deeper exploration of scripture and a challenge to be in God's word. Discipleship is often just looked at as a program. Often times, small groups and Sunday School programs are looked at as the answer for discipleship. I believe those things are great, and can be very effective in helping disciple, but discipleship should not end there.

Christ has called us to constantly disciple. As we are going, we should make disciples. Which means, I need to disciple when I sit down and have a meal of Taco Bell with a student. I disciple and teach when I hang out with students at a ballgame. I'm not encouraging constantly serious, unauthentic conversation with students. They want and need REAL! Have real conversations with students. Laugh with students. Find out about their lives, dreams, hopes, and struggles. You can disciple in major ways just by developing a relationship with a student, being real with them, showing them you care, and living a life of a Godly follower of Christ. When students develop a relational respect for you, they will begin listening to your preaching and teaching more, and making practical application of God's word in their lives.

The important part of this is that as a student pastor you strive to exemplify Christ and live a life worthy to be called Godly. If not, students will follow you down a dark path, and true discipleship will not take place.

I believe in small groups, Sunday School, camp, discipleship events as well as developing accountability groups and taking advantage of hanging out with students, as well as encouraging your adults to hang out with them and disciple them as well. I also develop a student leadership team, made up with students who are leaders and want more out of student ministry, so that I can have a more concentrated time of pouring into them, equipping them to lead and serve, and ultimately have more time discipling them.

Tools Used to Help Accomplish the Purpose and Call

First of all, understand that there is no greater tool than God's word. It is completely sufficient for knowing and understanding who He is and what He expects. However, sometimes a bridge needs to be made to fill in a gap. Most teenagers aren't jumping at the chance to sit down and read God's word or hear a biblical sermon. That doesn't mean we don't bring it to them. We absolutely do! However, in order for a student to get there, we have to use the brain God has given us to help students get connected in, so that the door opens and we get more opportunities to share Christ with that student and put God's word in front of them.

Understand that it is GOD who bridges the gap through the work of the Holy Spirit. However, I believe God uses us to help accomplish His purposes in that regard.

Paul used sports analogies so often in his epistles. It was evident that he was a sports fan, and he helped bridge the gap between popular culture and God's commands by connecting people through sports. In fact, Paul uses pop culture to bridge a gap and make a connection with the people of Athens during his sermon in Acts 17. He discusses an inscription on an object of worship the people had. He also brings up a quote from one of their poets in order to show an important God-centered truth. Just as God has given Paul a brain to help relate to people and open the door to bring His truths, He has also given us a brain and desires that we use it.

Don't get me wrong, there are many churches and ministries that have taken this way too far. They justify that they are simply meeting needs in order to bring the gospel, but they focus too much on the "needs" meeting, often clouding what really is a need and what is just a comfort. Sometimes the result has no gospel truth being shared, because too much of a focus is on keeping people around, having large numbers, and not making someone uncomfortable with the truth of God's word. In that case, the end does not justify the means. If done right, the end does justify the means.

For example: There was this teenager whom I shared the gospel with and encouraged to come to come to church. He wouldn't. He always had an excuse. Basically, he wanted nothing to do with God. I worked on him, called him, and visited him over the course of about 6 months and nothing resulted. However, one day he found out that we were taking a trip as a student ministry to play paintball. He decided to come. He played paintball with us and showed up at church that next Wednesday, where he was hearing the word preached that night, instead of staying home and playing graphic video games. A month later, I'm having a conversation with him that I had already had with him the first day I met him. That conversation was the gospel message. On this day, he listened. He threw out excuses. The Holy Spirit convicted him, and he gave his life to Christ. Praise God!

God has given us tools to reach people with His word. Here are some tools I use:

1. Fellowship: Fellowship is a great way to make connections with students and for students to make connections with each other. A fellowship can be a trip to play paintball, a game of basketball, or a meal at McDonald's. There's no perfect fellowship. Just giving teens a chance to plug in and get connected in order to hear the Word.

2. Creativity and Humor: I think most would agree that music is a great tool in worship. However, why should music be the only creative tool we use? God gave me a passion for video making. I love it. It is really a hobby. I use video, especially with our internet culture to keep students plugged in with the ministry while they're surfing Facebook. I think announcements in a church service can bog down and take away from worship. One way we like to make announcements and keep students thinking about the ministry during the week is to do fun podcasts and videocasts, and for other fringe students who social network to see what is going on in our student ministry.

Drama is also another great creative tool. I have found that things like drama and video are another great way of being able to pour into and disciple students while doing something that can also be used as a tool for worship.

Humor is also a great way. Don't ever let the enemy fool you into thinking that humor is a sign of insincerity. Laughter is a gift from God and He often uses it to draw people together, just like He does through the emotion of crying. I like using humor in video and drama because I believe it helps even the untalented shine! Humor is a less evasive way of helping someone open up and and brings about an intimacy that helps people connect.

These are things that help students feel wanted and needed and open up the door for more opportunities to pour God's word into them.

3. Recreation: I do agree that youth ministry as a whole has focused too much on games. However, I also think games and recreation, used strategically and not carelessly, can be a great tool to bridge that gap. Games can also paint an illustration for your message. I once had a very competitive youth group. I recognized that and gave them chances to get to release that competitive outlet. I ended up extending our bible study and worship time, to an extra 30 minutes so that I could bridge the gap with that group and feed God's word into them. Eventually, the games faded away and students started "getting it" and wanted nothing but God's word!

I also believe that if you get your hands dirty and play with your kids, it will open up more opportunities to pour into them. I've had kids that wouldn't give me or God the time of day. However, when I went out and played football or basketball with them, they suddenly became very interested in what I had to say because they developed respect for me as an athlete.

Recreation also brings students together. A competition can be a great way to build teamwork and illustrate the oneness we should have in Christ.

4. Knowing The World of a Teenager: Notice that I didn't say emerge yourself in the world of a teenager. One, you need to keep yourself pure and Godly. Two, there needs to be a distinction between the student and the pastor. This isn't about striving to be relevant! This is just simply just having an understanding of the world your students are living in. Their presuppositions and worldviews are different compared to teenagers 10 years ago. The generation gap is a real thing.
One way that I try to "know their world" is by using tools like Facebook and Twitter. I can find out what students are thinking everyday of the week and immediately connect with them. I can sometimes find out how much spiritual depth a student has by checking out their Facebook. I can learn trends from Twitter. For example, I don't watch MTV. I think its filthy and unedifying. However, I know that I have students who watch it. About a month ago when this whole Kanye West and Taylor Swift ordeal went down, I wasn't watching. I was on Twitter and saw that Kanye West became a trending topic (you know what I'm talking about if you understand Twitter lingo). I immediately was able to click a link to a website that had reported the incident and already had a video up. So without watching a second of MTV, I saw what happened with this whole controversy. I was able, that next Wednesday, to use that incident as an illustration on biblical humility. Another way to bridge the gap.

I also try to "know their world" by being a part of their specific world. I try to make their ballgames and performances when I can, especially if a student asks me to. Sure, things come up and I can't make every ballgame or performance. Many times, I don't even know about games and performances until after they happen. However, if I get an opportunity to understand their world by seeing what they are involved with it bridges that gap!

5. Work Together with Families and Other Passionate Adults: It is important to spend time with the families of teenagers too. For one, you want to make sure that the parents are being reminded to lead and disciple as scripture has commanded. However, you also want to make sure that the parents have a relationship with Christ and take the things of God seriously. Many times you can bridge the gap and get a student more involved when you get their parents more involved. The parents need to fulfill their biblical role as spelled out in Deuteronomy 6. Student pastors can come alongside them and help provide accountability so that can happen. I meet with parents, sometimes have lunch or coffee with them, and try to talk to them as much as I would a student.

I also believe it is important to have a strong base of spiritually mature adult leaders who are passionate about God and students. They help the student pastor accomplish the purposes and meet the goals that develop from the philosophy of ministry. They can go to ballgames when I can't, hang out with students and parents I have trouble reaching, and offer many God-given talents and abilities that I couldn't possibly offer because God made me different.

While the things that I just listed are great tools to accomplish the purpose and call, they can't be the focus themselves or take up too much of our time. In reality, many of these things I do in my spare time. The studying of God's word, prayer, worship planning, and living missionally all come first! The tools are a means, not the end all.

We shouldn't rely too heavily on them either. They shouldn't be used to simply inflate numbers. We get too focused on numbers in America. Let God take care of numbers. Do what Christ has called you to do!

We shouldn't also let these tools be what drive us, or be used because we want to keep up with the Joneses (in terms of other churches). When your focus gets too wrapped up in being relevant and appealing you miss the boat on God's calling and drop opportunities to share the gospel and disciple believers.

These tools may be different and used differently depending on your context. However, just remember that they are simply tools that help build something much bigger, and that is glorifying God and helping further His Kingdom!


As I wrap up this post, please know that I did not intend for this to be the plan. It is the philosophy of why I do what I do. The plan is constantly changing because the context is constantly changing. The philosophy basically stays the same, but the plan to execute the philosophy may look different year to year.

I believe if you develop a similar philosophy of student ministry that is Christ-centered, biblically sound, and God glorifying, you can't go wrong. Like I said earlier, the way I do things is not the perfect model of student ministry. Its just a way that I believe strives to be God honoring.

Student ministry is a 24-7 job. Its a lot of work, but its a pure joy seeing God transform lives.

If I could offer any advice it would be to make sure that you spend plenty of one on one time with God, in His word and on your knees. Live out your calling! Remember that your first ministry is to your family. Do not sacrifice them for the sake of your church ministry!

Also, take time to rest in His arms and don't get so wrapped up in doing things in your own strength because you will get burned out. His Holy Spirit is our source of strength, and it is only through Him that we will see Him work!

Post a Comment


Unknown said…

Thanks for the invest you are making in the lives of teens here in our city. One thing I know for sure, it is a big deal to know why we do what we do in ministry. You laid your foundation for student ministry out in this post. I wish more guys would take the time to process why they do what they do. You and I lead in different ministries in the same town. We have different strategies for investing in the lives of teens and that is 100% fine. One thing is for sure, we both have a plan we feel has been given to us by God. Thanks for sharing your heart here on the blog.

Later man,
Michael -
Unknown said…
Looks like I did not spell check, please forgive!
Sandie said…
Wow - Jeff; what an awesome post. It is refreshing to see (from a parents view) that my kids are experiencing a true and real Godly disciple that they can learn from. You are so right, that what we do at home as a family is the foundation, but the teenage years are hard, and if the foundation is not firm, the enemy creaps in through the cracks. Thanks so very much for your time and ministry.
Jonathan said…
Wow. What an amazing post! Having served on staff with Jeff for two years and seeing him minister day in and day out - I can say that Jeff you are the most passionate, purposeful, sincere, caring, God- Glorifying, God-Fearing and God-Honoring minister I have ever met in any ministry position. God will change lives and do great things with your humble servant heart. I feel privileged to have served with you in the short time that we had and am grateful to call you a friend and to look to you as an excellent example of what a minister, father, husband, and friend are to be. I'm praying for you daily - To God be the Glory!
Clark H. said…
I second the Wow! Jeff, I know you have been working on a novel, but if you feel led to publish a book, this might be the topic. You already have the passion and a here you have a well-defined outline. I think it something you should seriously consider and pray about.
Kathy Spiceland said…
Thanks Jeff for sharing your heart with us! Your walk reflects this -
Blain said…
As always, this is a great post and an excellent description of what a biblical ministry ought to be. We don't yet have a new student minister, but when we do, he will read this Philosophy of Student Ministry. I won't tell him who wrote it because that wouldn't be fair to him. I will just say it was written by "an expert in the field."