When I began in student ministry more than twenty years ago, I did so because of a God-given passion to see teenagers come to know Jesus and follow Him. I knew the necessary ingredients were the students themselves, leaders I recruited to join me in ministry, and a connection with parents for ministry in the home. In those early days, I focused on the students at the expense of the other two. This is the way that many begin in student ministry, but with time and understanding we realize the importance of leaders and parents in the student ministry equation. In my own student ministry journey, even with this growing understanding, I was still missing a vital ingredient.
While I began to put more time into recruiting and training leaders, I failed to understand my role in pastoring my leaders. For me, the relationship I had with many of my leaders was one centered on a ministry transaction. I would recruit them, they would join me in ministry, and I would train them to perform a role, effectively resulting in a growing student ministry. In this approach, I was missing the necessity of my responsibility to pastor my leaders. They needed more from me than tactical role based training, and your leaders need the same from you. Our leaders need us to be spiritually invested in them, caring for them far beyond a ministerial transaction and here’s how you can do it.
1. Develop relationships with your leaders.
This may sound so simple, and you might be thinking, “Got it, I already do that.” Before you put this one in the “done” column I want you to consider which leaders you speak to each week. Here’s a tough question: do you find yourself naturally gravitating towards the same few leaders each week and going several weeks without speaking to others? Another tough question: how many leaders do you have where you know information about their lives beyond the name of their spouse or what they do for a living? In order to pastor your leaders you need to know your leaders.
2. Create a spiritual development plan.
Ministry is so busy that unless we plan for it, it simply won’t get done. This doesn’t need to look like a sermon every time you meet with your leaders. After all, they are still sitting under the teaching and leadership of the senior pastor. However, as you get to know your leadership base there will be spiritual principles that rise to the surface that will need your focus and can inform the overall plan. Remember that even though these are people who have chosen to join you in ministry, they are still people and people don’t naturally drift towards spiritual maturity.
3. Foster an environment of care.
One of the best ways to pastor your leaders is to care about the issues of their lives. Hurt with them when they are hurting, celebrate with them when they are celebrating, and pray with them often. As you know, it takes time with people to get to the place where they will open up about the issues of their lives. You will need to pay close attention and show consistency in your care beyond their ability to help you in ministry an environment of care to truly be fostered.
The volunteer leaders who join you in ministry would probably never articulate, “You aren’t spiritually developing me and I need that from you”, but it will feel like there’s something just missing. Being called to student ministry isn’t solely about discipling teenagers. You have a great opportunity to disciple adults as well, which many times are parents of teenagers, multiplying your impact exponentially on an entire family.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Students. Ben is passionate about investing in student ministry leaders like you. You can find more encouragement from Ben on his YouTube Channel, Student Ministry That Matters.