Serving in Student Ministry: What’s In It for Me?
As youth pastors, most of us always need more adults to serve in our ministry. Small group leaders, sound booth volunteers, camp leaders…. the list goes on and the need is always there.
My church recently kicked off a new ministry year and, as I prepared to train our adult leaders on policies and procedures, I found myself really grappling with the purpose of the very meeting that I had called. Was my purpose really just to review policies and procedures? If that was the case, the meeting sounded really boring. I also considered what the volunteers themselves might be thinking as they considered serving in this ministry. Even the most altruistic volunteers will at some point ask the question, “What about me? Do I get anything out of it?”
What are we as ministers calling our adult leaders to? How should they view their role in the ministry? Is there any grander vision for volunteers as they serve, beyond just making a sacrifice for the sake of the kids?
I am coming to understand why adults and parents are hesitant to serve. They view serving as a burden.
For so many adults, it seems that serving is something that a church member “should do” or “ought to do.” Honestly, I don’t blame them for thinking those things and, in part, there is a sense of duty that comes with being a church member. However, I do not believe that duty should be the primary motivation for serving in any ministry. Far too often I have begged and pleaded with adults to serve in student ministry; in doing so, it was as if I was saying, “please come suffer for the Lord.”
But, what if serving was viewed more as sanctification than suffering. What if serving could be more of a delight rather than a duty?
I believe Paul addresses the one who serves when he wrote to the Ephesians.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1–3).
Every Christian has a special part to play in the Kingdom of God. What is that part? The answer for each person can be multifaceted but for our purposes, that part is student ministry. The part adults are playing in student ministry is extremely important to the Kingdom of God, the church as a whole, and to the individual students they lead. As the one leading the church of our youth ministry, our role is to inspire our adult leaders in the knowledge of their vital purpose in serving. And according to Paul, adult volunteers have been gifted and empowered by Jesus for this work!
For the church, the adult leader is partnering with other parents and the wider congregation as they disciple teenagers, invest in their lives, and love them unto Jesus. For students, adults are the hands and feet of Jesus as they bring truth in love. As they speak, they share the greatest and most firm truth students could ever hope in and believe. As adult volunteers interact with students and even disciple them in love, they show them the heart of our Heavenly Father.
Investing in teenagers each week is no easy task. Students will be distracted in group discussion by their phones, they’ll veer off topic with what happened at school that week. Students will ask for advice but turn around and do the opposite. Students will fall back into old sin habits.
Though frustration and challenge will arise for the adult leader, the beauty is that they do not have to “dig down deep” to just be a better leader; they need only look to Jesus. The gift of grace is in accordance with Jesus, not based on our best efforts.
“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7)
This indelible reality is the foundation for personal sanctification to occur among teenagers as leaders serve in ministry. And it’s also the foundation for the sanctification of the leader him or herself.
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, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11–16).
The participation of adult volunteers in the ministry is not just for the discipleship of students, but for their own discipleship as well. In the above passage, Paul does not just say “they” and “them,” he uses the plural pronoun “we.” Therefore, serving in student ministry is not just for the benefit of students, it is also for the benefit of the servants. Adult volunteers need to be inspired to see and believe that their volunteering is also part of their own sanctification. That the Lord desires to do a work within them as much as he does through them.
According to Ephesians 4, adults will grow in sanctification by speaking truth in love.
Student ministry has a unique way of exposing impatience, pride, anger, jealousy, and insecurity within the leader. For example, what comes out when you try to lead a gaggle of middle school boys in group discussion and all they want to do is talk about Fortnite? What is exposed in you when you bestow the greatest wisdom and yet she still keeps going back to her boyfriend? What is exposed within you when students stop coming to you for advice and go to someone else? What is exposed within you when you are asked questions that you don’t know the answer to?
In each of these situations – and countless others – adult volunteers have the opportunity to lean on their own ability, or to turn to Jesus for confidence, humility, grace, and patience.
The challenges of student ministry will test the patience of the most mature Christian. However, with each one of these challenges the full measure of grace has been given to all of us, including the adult volunteers, according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The Good News is that Christ doesn’t hold back! With each challenge in student ministry there is an opportunity for adult leaders to be transformed more into the image of Jesus as they turn to him for strength, wisdom, and grace to lead in humility, gentleness, and faithfulness.
As ministers of the Gospel it is our duty to call and inspire our volunteers to delight in their sanctification as they serve, disciple, and love students unto the Gospel. Their service is not just for students, it is also for them.