Monday, June 9, 2008

Refocusing Student Ministry

A couple of weeks ago I made mention of Lifeway's new promotional program which contained this statement:

"By focusing on students and helping them become all God wants them to be, student ministry leaders, coming alongside of parents, can help students know God, own their faith, and make their faith known"

We had decent discussion on this, although I would have welcomed far more discussion. My question was whether or not you agree with the statement. It seems that some liked parts of it, and others pointed out a few things that are not so good. Let me attempt to put a few thoughts down. First the positive:
  1. The statement of "coming alongside parents" is very welcome. The sheer acknowledgment of the importance of parents in the lives of students shows a major growth in "cutting edge" student ministry. Finally youth ministries are being encouraged to not only involve parents but assist parents in leading their own children. This is welcome indeed, perhaps we will see less lone ranger youth ministries that are divorced from parents and the local body in which it serves.
  2. "Owning their faith" is also a pleasing development in student ministries. In years past we would have heard know God and make God known. Of course that "knowing God" step was another way of saying "get saved". So, the principle was "get saved then go get others saved". We have seen the deadly results of this. Students really never got to know God. So, focusing on students owning their faith is welcome.

Now the negative:

  1. The first four words of this promotional pamphlet, "By focusing on students", tells me that nothing much has changed in "cutting edge" student ministry. Maybe this is being too harsh, if so forgive me. To me, such a statement negates everything they say after it. How do you suggest "coming alongside parents" and still "focusing on students"? Does this mean that you work with mom and dad to make much of their kid? If so, that is idolatry. More than likely it is marrying the old idea (you've gotta focus on the students) with the new--actually classical and biblical--idea (parents are the primary educators of students). What happens in this case is that "coming alongside parents" is given lip service and student minstry continues to focus on students.
  2. Furthermore, is it really a good idea to "focus on the students"? Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean that we should not be concerned for students, that our heart should not beat for students, that we should not love students, that we should "just preach the Word" without looking at the crowd. No, we ought to model Jesus in this regard. He loved people. Paul loved people. Look at Romans 9:1-5. Paul basically said, "I'd go to hell for you". This ought to be our heart. But our focus should not be on those we minister to. Our focus ought to be on God. If our primary driving force is students then do we not by our example neuter everything we tell them about "knowing God, owning their faith, and making God known"? The key to student ministry, as it is with any ministry, is being so enthralled with Jesus that you "struggle with all his energy that he powerfully works" within you. The more the leader (parent or student minister) is enamored with the glory of Jesus Christ the more that will catch.

Until we understand that curriculum, preaching, teaching, missions, fellowship, worship, and anything else you want to add, is to be about proclaiming and relishing in the excellencies of Christ we will continue to be focused on man to the peril of their souls. And I mean giving that more than lip service. I mean what John Owen said "If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us".

I will be blunt. And maybe this is too either/or and it ought to be a both/and. If so, then I deserve the rebuke. But my thought is that we are so entrenched in man-centered semi-Pelagianism that a "both/and" is next to impossible. Simply put, what we need is not Lifeway curriculum to help us get students to know God, own their faith, and make God known. We need student ministers and parents (as well as students) set ablaze by the Spirit of God, and so enamored with Jesus Christ that He bubbles out of us and the fire he has cast in our soul causes sparks to fly onto another so that they too are lit aflame by our glorious God.

Perhaps that is what it means to Know, Own, and make Known. But it doesn't happen by focusing on students. It happens by focusing on Jesus.


  1. Mike

    I am right now at Super Summer in Bolivar about ready to head for dinner but thought a quick comment on your thoughts...

    I have yet to hear the gospel preached. It is Wednesday and nothing. What we all need, like you said is the truth of the gospel. The feeling I get is that the students are already Christians, let's talk about missions, evangelism, leadership etc. God has a lot to say about these things, but what EVERYONE needs is the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Not one time has the word "sin" been mentioned. We need help....

  2. Josh,

    Thanks for your comment and for providing perspective on Bolivar. I would almost say that you also have a ton of decisions on Friday. They will slip the gospel in the back door and all those kids that were encouraged all week to do evangelism...will now "get saved"...probably like they got saved last year at super summer.

    Okay, maybe that was a little harsh. But, I have experienced this too many times and had to clean up the train wreck years after it happened. That's is one reason we avoid super summer's.

    The problem, as you have greatly pointed out is that EVERYONE needs the glorious gospel--and if this glorious gospel does not result in missions, evangelism, leadership, etc. then the problem is that the gospel has not gone deep enough. I know that we need training in areas we really need to believe in the sufficiency of Christ and His Gospel!

  3. mike

    It was a good night, they played a video/sermon of old guys preaching the gospel, it was excellent, one of the best i heard. Tonight was better, but there seems to be a thing about saying the word "sin". Sinner was mentioned, but no real description of sin, how it offends God, except the video talked about it some.

    To be fair to the guys at super summer now, i don't think their goal is to slip the gospel in the back door for some decisions, or for numbers, being around them, that isn't their thing. Pray for God to continue to work.

  4. Josh,

    Glad to hear that things are getting better...and I also appreciate you tempering my statement that was a tad harsh :-)

    I have experienced a few similar situations and it is usually not the intent of the ministers to "slip the gospel in the back door"...however, often b/c of lax theology that is what happens. We are afraid of things like "sin" and "offending people" and we have to be very careful to be liked by the hearers that we do all kinds of cool things that they would like to "win them over" and then slip the gospel in the back door. (Again not assuming that the people at Bolivar are in either of these categories) I have also experienced those that have flat out told me to "prime the pump"...meaning at our concert have a few students that are already going to go forward to get the ball rolling on decisions.

    I hope that it is very gospel centered this week, and that God is glorified.

  5. Wow Mike...with "priming the pump," I can understand why you'd be so scathingly harsh and cynical...actually, I think you're probably tempering it quite a bit even before we read it.
    Thanks for the conversations and insights, guys. May God be glorified as His people seek to build into young people to equip them for the work of the ministry.
    Grace be with you, brothers.



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