Student Ministry: What I have Learned along the Way

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This is a live blog by Terry Delaney during the Connecting Church and Home Conference March 2009 at Brentwood Baptist Church in Nashville. You can also read confernce notes on the Soujour Kids blog or from the Thoughts On The Word blog

Session #2: Student Ministry-What I have Learned along the Way (Steve Wright)

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children. Psalm 78:4-6


steve_wrightI have a friend who certainly believes in eternity.  She does not believe in eternity as if it was a lesson.  She believes in an eternity that is as real as the next breath.  It is so real and radical that is has caused her to forsake everything to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Her name is Abby Tracy. 
When she was 13 years old, she began to go on mission trips.  The Lord began to give her a heart for the nations and for the gospel.  It grew so much that once when she was a sophomore in college, she raised 50 thousand dollars to build a home in Uganda for children she would rescue from the streets.  The house was finished when she graduated from college and was ready for her when she came to Uganda as missions. 
These kids are called “huffers” because they carry bags around with aviation fluid sniffing it all day to escape the “real world.”  Abby believes in eternity to the point that she had to respond to the call of the gospel.  She knew these kids have nothing apart from Christ. 
We had Abby over to our house a while back.  We were able to invite college students as well to listen to her share the stories of her work.  She shared that she really wants nothing of temporal value because it is all fading.  Rather, she wants to share the gospel with the children who have nothing because eternity is of so much more value than anything we can have here on this earth. 
Webb Simpson, a professional golfer whose heart beats for Christ, takes every opportunity to share the gospel with as many people as he is able.  Abby and Webb have two different mission fields, but one common objective-the gospel ministry of Jesus Christ.

1.  My Journey

My journey starts with my testimony.  I wrestled in college and by the grace of God; I was paired up with a Christian wrestler who led me to the Lord.  Upon graduation, I became a youth pastor with no idea what I was going to do. 
I began student ministry as an activity driven ministry.  From this, I began to do ministry by my own strength and with a great deal of pride.  I was more concerned about “growing” the student ministries rather than growing the students in Christ. 
I had a few questions:  Is all of this I am doing really working?  Is it biblical?  Five main indicators began to concern me regarding the next generation.

  • Retention-at least 50% of teens between 18-21 leave the church
  • Career-why are those “called” to youth ministry not lasting?  I began to notice at youth pastor conferences that about 1/3 of the youth pastors would leave each year. 
  • Evangelism-in the past 20 years, the number of youth pastors have grown dramatically.  In the same time span, the number of youth reached for Christ has dropped just as much.  (Source: Dr. Alvin Reid)
  • Biblical Literacy-Christian Smith said, “The vast majority of teens who call themselves Christians have not been educated in religious doctrines and therefore really don’t know what they believe.”  Are we producing a faith that lasts? 
  • My Personal Struggle-I was not asking about the next generation as much as I was concerned about the next generation in my family.  Will my children treasure Christ above all else?  If the statistics are true, then two of my three children will not remain in their walk with Christ.

I began to wonder if the way I was doing student ministry was really working.  Was I really building a lasting faith in my students?

2.  Turning Point

One of the first things I became convinced of biblically is that God gave parents the role of disicpling their children.  It is hard to do this when the parents do not treasure Christ above all else.  My ministry did not mirror this biblical truth.  My ministry model allowed parents to abdicate their responsibility of discipling their children to me.
I wish I could tell you of my many successes.  Rather, I am able to talk of my many failures.  I wanted to start to change my ministry, but God needed to change me first.  God began to impress on me where I needed to start.

3. Where Should I start?

I needed to start in my home.  I had to have a desire in my own home to disciple my children.  I needed a plan for family worship in my own home.  The truth was, I was teaching my children to value recreation, sports, games and all other treasures above Christ. 
When I began to make this change in my home I started by asking my kids what we should value most.  Their answer was simply that we should treasure Christ and worshiping Him.  I will never forget humbling myself before my family and confessing my sins to them.  Our children want to be led spiritually.  What is amazing is that when parents hear this, they are inspired to action. 
I would like to lay out three steps to move your church toward a family equipping model.

  1. Start like Nehemiah-Nehemiah had compassion when he saw that the walls of Jerusalem were torn down.  He wept and had a burden for rebuilding those walls.  We need to have this same passion as we seek to equip our families.
  2. Biblical Theology-If we are not looking to Scripture, where else are we going to turn?  Are we looking at great corporate models?  Do we really want more plates spinning?  I doubt it.  We need to look to God’s word.  As we look around the U.S. our hearts should be broken as we see how ineffective the bride of Christ has become. 

Youth Specialties says about the church in their statement of faith:  

We believe in the Church. We know-it’s flawed, inconsistent, institutional, bureaucratic, even embarrassing sometimes. Yet it is also incredibly heroic at other times. Whether we like it or not, want to attend it or not, we’re stuck with it. There are a lot of parachurch organizations out there that are a lot more glamorous at first glance, but the Church is the Body of Christ, and that’s pretty glamorous too. The Church is not optional, it’s not up for discussion, it’s been around ever since Jesus, and it’s still here. That’s good enough for us. ( accessed 21 March 2009).

Imagine saying this about your bride-how would that sound?  We are talking about the bride of Christ here!  Should you not be offended by this? 
Start in your home-Billy Graham said that if your Christianity does not work at home, then do not export it.  John Angell James says that “God will hold the parents responsible for the religion of their children-so far as means go.”  What do your children observe in your life? 
I believe that if we are faithful in this area of our ministry, the home, then God will expand our ministries outside the home. 
The question is not how can our children look like Abby or Webb.  The question should be how can you or I look like Abby or Webb.  If you want your children or students to have a heart for eternity, then place eternity before your children.  I want you to leave today about the great treasure we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Don’t get me wrong, I love family ministry (Old Testament) and I love the church (New Testament), but I love above all things the Gospel of Christ. 

About Steve Wright

Steve is the Assistant Pastor of Student Ministries at Providence Baptist Church.  Steve has served in student ministry since 1988 and joined the team at Providence in May of 1999. He received a Master of Arts degree in Christian education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. His undergraduate degree is from Carson Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn. Steve and his wife, Tina, were married in 1989. They are blessed with three children – Sara, William and Tyler.  He has written two books on the subject of families and the church:  ReThink and A Parent Privilege

About The Connecting Church and Home Conference    

The Connecting Church and Home Conference is designed to equip church leaders with practical ministry strategies for impacting families within the church.  Featuring nationally known leaders and ministry speakers, this conference is sure to impact your approach to building stronger families in your church. 

Special thanks to Terry Delaney who contributed this guest post. To read more of Terry’s writing visit Going To Seminary or Diary of a Seminary Student.

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