Six Books for Your First Year in Student Ministry

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The summer marks a time in which many college and seminary graduates will find themselves entering the realm of vocational ministry to students. In preparation for the “ramp-up,” which often coincides with the beginning of the school year, it is also a season in which many volunteers will find themselves taking on new roles in existing ministries. Regardless of one’s level of involvement, the disciplines of study, reflection, and strategic implementation are invaluable to building a sustainable, God-glorifying ministry.

The Tyranny of the Urgent

Student ministry is a field which is full of urgency. In an eternal sense, the souls of teenagers and their families weigh in the balance; there is a holy impetus to “walk in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Colossians 4:5). In a temporal sense, deadlines abound. Messages must be prepared, events planned and communicated, payments collected, conflicts and misunderstandings resolved.

With so much to do, and with seemingly so little time to do it, the disciplines of study, preparation, and strategic development may appear to be secondary concerns.

Beware; such thought is illusory. While such disciplines may not yield immediate, tangible results, they are invaluable to sustaining fruitful ministry over the long haul. As Josh Manley writes, “The urgency of the mission requires patience to ensure that the integrity of the mission is not undermined. Undermined by what? Any method that sacrifices faithfulness on the altar of fast, or pastoral care on the altar of impressive numbers.”

Six Books for Your First Twelve Months

As you seek to build a ministry to students upon the sure foundation of Christ’s finished work, I would recommend the following six books to anyone beginning a new chapter in the context of student ministry. They are neither infallible nor all-inclusive, but they are each helpful in a unique way.

My encouragement would be to read them each within twelve months of your new beginning, even if that means using a portion of your office hours to do so (the emails will still be there afterwards!) Take notes, ask questions, and brainstorm ideas. Don’t simply consume them. Inasmuch as they are faithful to Holy Scripture, let yourself be consumed by them, that God-glorifying ministry may abound as a result.

  1. As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students (Alvin L. Reid). Simply stated, no book outside of Scripture has had a more profound impact upon my philosophy and practice of student ministry than has As You Go. Reid provides a re-orientation of the scorecard of success in ministry: away from large numbers and dynamic events (though those things aren’t condemned) and towards the making of disciples who are consumed by the Great Commission. Far from having implications only for student pastors, I place this book among the top five most influential books which I have read (the Bible excluded). You cannot afford to miss this work.
  2. Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples (Jim Putnam). Though not specifically related to student ministry, Real-Life Discipleship provides an enormous wealth of knowledge regarding the theology and practice of disciple-making, both at the personal and the organizational levels. It will also prove to be a helpful resource for training ministry co-leaders to be fruitful in the work of discipling students.
  3. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Matt Perman). In this book, Perman synthesizes the cutting-edge knowledge of secular productivity books with the unchanging reality of the finished work of Christ. This book has been an invaluable companion to me, helping me both to manage the numerous urgent tasks which accompany student ministry and to lead myself and my family to prioritize what truly matters: treasuring and surrendering to Christ in ways that result in loving works of faith towards others. For every sphere of life imaginable, this book helps answer the question, “What’s Best Next?”
  4. Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide (Edited by Cameron Cole and Jon Nielson). With individual chapters written by a unique mixture of youth ministry practitioners, Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry is a helpful primer for a variety of student ministry-related topics. These include the role of musical worship in student ministry, advice on partnering with parents for the work of youth ministry, the best practices for student ministry service projects and mission trips, and more. Building upon the paradigm-shift put forward in works such as As You Go, Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry is immensely practical and common-sense without being devoid of theological richness.
  5. Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication (Andy Stanley and Lane Jones). I tend to disagree with much of this book’s content, and I would not recommend it to anyone who was not already committed to Scripturally-sound, expository teaching of the full counsel of God’s Word. That being said, the practical preaching considerations offered in Communicating for a Change have been invaluable in forming my approach to preaching, both to students and to the congregation as a whole. First, read chapter 3 of Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry (“The Impact of Expounding God’s Word” by Eric McKiddie). Then, don’t miss the opportunity to grow in a similar fashion; read Communicating for a Change.
  6. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Vaughan Roberts). It’s one thing to claim that Scripture is “one story,” but it is quite another to understand the exact nature of that storyline. Roberts simply and elegantly identifies the central theme of Scripture as the establishment of God’s Kingdom: God’s People living in God’s Place under God’s Rule, and therefore enjoying God’s Blessing. Whether you are leading a Bible study, explaining Scripture to a skeptic, or simply looking to improve your own understanding and articulation of the storyline of the Bible, God’s Big Picture will prove to be an invaluable resource.

What resources would you recommend to those new to student ministry? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below!

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