What You Must Do: A Biblical Philosophy of Student Ministry

Empty notepad with crayon on desk

A Student Ministry Is Not Built Overnight

“You want me to do what?!?” It was a hot August Sunday afternoon. I was standing in Trader Joe’s, and one of my pastors had just called me. He was asking my wife and me to start a college ministry—the week that school began. I was working on my Ph.D., teaching high school full-time, co-teaching Sunday school, and already had trouble sleeping at night because of my responsibilities.

There was urgency in my pastor’s voice, though. The city where I live—Louisville, KY—has two Bible colleges, three major universities, and a host of technical schools. The fields are white for harvest, are they not? This ministry was a strategic opportunity to invest in the kingdom. It was as if my wife and I were two fishermen who were sitting in our boat and mending our nets; then, Jesus walked up and said: “Follow me.” We stood up and went to work. Three days later, I sat before the pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church and presented a ministry plan. Four days after that, we launched a college ministry in the community clubhouse at our apartment complex. Fifteen students showed up. The Lord was moving, and the Gospel was at work.

8 Biblical Principles for Your Student Ministry

If you were asked to start a student ministry overnight, what would you do? While your answer to this question must take into account your particular context and the age of your students, there are essential biblical principles that you need to consider. These biblical principles are much more than just good concepts to think through. They are principles that drive what you must do if you are to have a student ministry that bears lasting fruit and pleases the Lord.

Over the next 9 weeks of this summer, I will take us point-by-point through eight biblical principles for your ministry. These principles will be biblically-based, gospel-oriented, and practical. Let’s get started by looking at a brief preview of the eight principles to come.

1. A faithful student ministry must make disciples. Matthew 28:18-20 teaches us that the Great Commission is not just for missionaries. It is also for the local church, and it is for student ministries. To be clear, though, the great commission calls us to do more than convert students. It calls for discipleship. Here is post 1 and post 2.

2. A faithful student ministry must partner with parents. Deuteronomy 5:16; 6:6-7; and Ephesians 6:1-4 make it clear that the parents have the primary and God-given responsibility to disciple their children in the faith. A biblical student ministry will take this into account and ensure they are supporting and partnering with parents rather than replacing them. Here is post 1, post 2, and post 3.

3. A faithful student ministry must devote itself to God’s Word. The book of 2 Timothy has multiple texts (2:14-21; 3:15-17; 4:1-2) that make the primacy of the proclaimed Word of God clear. It is assumed that one of the key objectives of your ministry is transformed lives. The primary tool we have for transforming lives is the proclaimed Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. A faithful student ministry cannot water down or skip over robust biblical exposition.

4. A faithful student ministry must proclaim the Gospel. Statistics tell us that many of your students will walk away from the faith when they leave your ministry. For this reason, you might be the last person ever to share the Gospel with them. Do not grow weary in sharing the good news with every student. After all, Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation.

5. A faithful student ministry must model Gospel living. The adage remains true: some things are caught, not taught. The apostle Paul understood this when he told the Philippians: “Join in imitating me.” Influence is inevitable. Whether you try or not, you will make disciples. The question is: disciples of who? Therefore, watch your life. Watch your tongue. Watch your attitude.

6. A faithful student ministry must recruit faithful servants. The apostle Paul told Timothy to get help in 2 Timothy 2:2. He told him to recruit faithful men who can teach. Jesus had the twelve. Paul had Timothy, Barnabas, Junia, Priscilla, and Aquila. You must recruit faithful men and women to help you mentor, disciple, and provide effective pastoral care. In a small church, this may require recruitment, coaching, and discipling of your adult leaders as well!

7. A faithful student ministry must depend on prayer. Paul told the Colossian Church: “Continue steadfastly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2). Alongside teaching the Word of God, this is your most urgent and needful task. You need to pray for your students and with your students—both privately and publicly. Prayer will mark your ministry with humility, dependence on the Holy Spirit, and the genuine care of others.

8. A faithful student ministry must exalt the local church. The writer of Hebrews knows the secret to having a flourishing life. Do you know what that secret is? Knit yourself deeply into the local church—the body of Christ. In Hebrews 10:24-25, Paul tells us that the local church will stir us up to good works and love. “Love” and “good works” are the primary fruits that are to flow from a regenerate heart. The best way for you to disciple your students is to connect them to the local church—to the preaching, the worship, the service projects, to the generations. Help them to open their eyes, look around, see needs, and meet them!

A Departing Word: Discern What You Must Do

A hallmark of great leaders is the ability to discern between the good things, the better things, and the required things. As you are leading and shaping your student ministry, ask yourself: “What must I do?” Articles, books, conferences, and conversations can bring good answers to this essential question. If you want to be a wise leader, consult them! The best answer to this question, however, comes from God’s Word. It alone is the true and reliable guide. It alone, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, can equip you to do what it calls you to do: to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.