To the existing and future parents of middle and high school students –
Here is my encouragement as to why your children need to be actively engaged in student ministry. This post is not full of what stats and research say. Nor is it full of cross references and supporting Biblical texts. It is simply the perspective from my wife and I, after seeing our two kids be involved in student ministry. At the time of this post, our kids are 19 (sophomore in college) and 17 (senior in high school).
We have 3 big reasons…
Your children need others, beyond their parents, to shepherd and lead their hearts toward Jesus.
Years ago, I sought the counsel of pastor friend on how to raise kids while still being a pastor. He had this nugget of gold that I latched onto and have through the years. He said, ‘Your children need others to pastor or shepherd their hearts.’ He went on to tell me how your children need to hear truth from others’ voices. They need others to care for their hearts and listen to their thoughts and feelings. He wasn’t implying that as parents, we should shirk our responsibility as disciplemakers and ‘pass the buck’ to the church to do that work. He was saying instead that as parents, we need to be intentional about partnering with the church and other believers in the shepherding of our children’s hearts.
Heather and I have had various times through the years where our kids have come home from a student ministry gathering and said something to the effect of, ‘Pastor (or the person teaching) said “_____________” and it just made sense or stood out.’ Basically our kids were sharing some piece of truth or application that they were encouraged in that evening, and they were acting as if that was the first time they’d heard such a truth. Heather and I then look at each other and think to ourselves, ‘We’ve been saying that for YEARS!’ And in those moments, it is not a time to make it about you as the parent and your incredible (amen?) wisdom, but it is a time to rejoice that the Lord saw fit to use another Godly voice to teach and lead your child. And that the Spirit of God is actively at work in your child’s heart, changing them by the truth. That the seeds of the Word are being planted and taking root in the heart of your child.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes the wisdom we share as parents can become white noise to a child’s heart. We live with them 24×7. They hear from us often and have for years. This is why it is vital that your children hear from and be led by other believers as well.
Your children need to be aware of and build relationships with other believers their age.
Seeking to follow, trust in, and obey Jesus, in the midst of the growing up years, can be lonely at times. If you, as the parent, were a believer as a kid, you can probably relate. To be in the world, but not of the world, is a tension every believing student (let alone believing adult) lives in. And it is a tension that is not going away this side of Heaven nor with graduation.
What we see the early church doing in the New Testament, while living in that tension of being in, but not of the world, was gathering together with one another. They were consistent in meeting together, and chose not to forsake that opportunity.
Neither one of our kids had a big group of believing friends who surrounded them during the school years. That isn’t easy. But them being engaged in student ministry was immensely helpful in bridging that gap. It gave them an opportunity to pray with other believers, to be encouraged and encourage others, and to share honestly with fellow brothers and sisters who would listen and love.
And then, as they would walk the halls of schools and engage in life there, they would know that they are not alone as a follower of Jesus. It would remind them that their way of life in Christ matters, when they are tempted to live a hypocritical life that changes with the crowd. Sometimes what was happening in student ministry would then spill over into the life of the school, which was beautiful. For example, a child learning to lead and pray in the boundaries of student ministry, then begins to lead and pray in the context of their classroom or team.
As they grew in their faith, in the context of community with other believers, it would result in the last reason of why student ministry…
Your children need a place that will encourage and equip them as missionaries.
We, as parents, have not tried to insulate or put our kids into a Christian bubble, implying that they must ‘hide from the world.’ We instead, have challenged our kids to use their way of life and their words to lead others to Jesus. To live in alignment with the Scriptures that calls believers to be witnesses, disciplemakers, ambassadors, salt, light, missionaries, etc. Our kids (much like their parents) are a work in progress. They (again much like their parents) can walk in a spirit of fear, rather than boldness or a spirit of silence, rather than speaking the truth in love.
But our kids, as they have engaged in the life of student ministry, have consistently been encouraged to live as missionaries. Much like our first reason, it has been so good for them to hear that same truth from others voices, and not just their parents. And not only hear that truth from others, but see it being lived out by others.
We’ve challenged our kids, through their years, to invite their unsaved friends to student ministry gatherings and events. Inviting to a church gathering is not the end all of evangelism. Our challenge to them has always been don’t just invite, but talk with them after the event. Engage in relationship and conversation, because that is what missionaries do. One of our kids’ friends came to know Christ in high school, through many seeds being planted, including personal invitation to student ministry gatherings AND a faithful witnessing friendship outside of the events.
For me, when I was a student, the Lord used friends inviting me to their student ministry to plant Gospel seeds in me. I’m forever grateful for their willingness to take that step of faith and invite me. It gave me a window into what the Christian life was all about and it helped deconstruct lies I was starting to believe about Christianity (i.e.: that salvation was through works, rather than faith in Christ).
Our hope is that you, as parents, might be encouraged to partner with the work of student ministry in the shepherding of your child’s heart and faith.