First off, let’s clarify something with the title. I would like to go on record here and answer a few questions you might be thinking after reading a title and 2 whole sentences. “But school started back over a month ago…” Yes, school did start back. And the idea of a back to school blog a month into school is potentially the most textbook example of the day-late-dollar-short metaphor. “So how does this help me now?” An excellent question that deserves a clear and decisive answer. In a sense this post right now doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. But one thing we do know is that time is circular, meaning, if we continue in the student ministry pursuit we will certainly encounter many back to school years. So maybe these practical steps do no help currently but they could certainly be implemented now, perhaps in January for the start of the next semester of school, or even next school year to prepare every one of us as those making disciples of Jesus Christ.
What is to come is not the end all be all, panacea to radically improve your student ministry and create buzz for the coming year. But what I do hope is that these five steps will practically help us in the avenues of discipleship, evangelism, and organization for the coming school year. I truly believe with all my heart that the early fall really and truly set the tone for the theme and vision for the rest of the school year. Developing good habits now will help in the difficult days ahead.
At the same time students bring a certain amount of excitement into the student ministry once the school year starts. I know the feeling of having tons of students fill the worship area in May as school is drawing to a close, ready to head to out to summer missions or camp, and then never see them again until August when school starts back. The school year brings about a renewed vigor in student ministry and the opportunity to intentionally reach and equip students we have never met before or haven’t seen in a while. That’s why I believe a good portion of summer should be spent in preparation and strategic planning for starting back to school. There are several reasons for that we will touch on later.
When I was a kid one of my favorite days was “Back to School Shopping Day.” My mom would take my brother and just the two of them would go shopping. Then she would just take me. We would load up the 2000 Chrysler Town & Country Minivan (a sweet ride I might add) and head off for the nearest metropolis we could find. We would walk in to Walmart, that great bastion of culture, and there would be the school supplies list. Included was everything I was supposed to bring, how many pencils I would need, how many notebooks, etc. In fact the biggest fight my mother and I had was when she wouldn’t let me get the Power Rangers notebooks and instead settle for those 1 Subject Wide Ruled spiral notebooks which did not make learning fun, did not make me cool, and did not improve my educational pursuits…thanks again mom. But what am I supposed to do as a Student Minister? All my students are off getting their pencils and books in order. What am I supposed to do to begin my back to school bash? Here are five practical actions we as student ministers ought to take in preparation for our students starting back to school. Some I have utilized and really think highly of while some have me looking back and looking forward to implementing next year.
1. Plan your 1 Month, 3 Month, and 1 Year
This is something I picked up from Ben Trueblood and John Paul Basham on the Lifeway Student Ministry Podcast.* They advise that all every Monday every student Minister ought to plan their week, 3 month, and year schedules while setting achievable goals to reach those plans. A lot of summer time is spent doing camps, going on trips, and hanging out with students. Maybe you teach a Bible study through the summer and that’s great! Devote some time in the office to strategically plan what you are going to do during August. What sort of back to school activities are you going to plan, how much help you will need, how much budget, etc. At the same time you can map out the next three month span in a sense shifting from the paradigm of “Get them here” to “Okay now what are we going to do?” This step will include a lot of the elements from the first month of planning while also looking ahead to major events, Wednesday night programming elements, and how to get students plugged in and invested in discipleship opportunities. Lastly, you’ll also want to look into your 1 year planning. This is large scale and incorporates elements like DNow, Camps, Retreats, teaching series/teaching themes, etc. Essentially you are mapping out the proposed path the student ministry ship will sail throughout the year.
2. Make a Point of Contact with Schools
My grandfather once told me something revolutionary that changed my life as a young boy, “If you want to catch a fish you need to go where fish are.” The same can be said for student ministry (although sub out fish for students of course). Students are at school, practice, clubs, etc. Make it a point to connect with the schools your students are attending in some degree whatever we are allowed to do. Maybe that means sitting down with the principal to talk, maybe your schools offer FCA and you are invited to attend the meetings, maybe you can take Gatorade to the football team or band and introduce yourself. Make a point of contact with the schools where you can be identified as the student minister and someone who is there to help. You can connect with students and administration at the same time, both of which are important networks to keep in mind.
3. Determine one thing to research, refine, and rework
What do I need to know? What do I need to improve? What do I need to change? Those are three important questions to consider to help us all continue to grow as student ministers. In research, determine a particular subject, book of the Bible, or doctrine you want to really invest in learning more about. Continue to learn, grow and research. Continue to analyze what elements of your student ministry are really succeeding and how to capitalize on that. Continue to look for what needs to change or be done away with to ensure discipleship to its fullest.
4. Teach at least 1 Lesson on Evangelism
Back to school is an interesting time for students. Excitement is high to see friends again, new friendships and relationships are forming, and the opportunity to develop new habits is present. One of the most important things we can do to capitalize on this time is to boldly and intentionally teach at least one effective lesson on evangelism. Preparing students with the knowledge and ability to share the Gospel and invite friends to church is needed at all times but can carry extra weight during this time. Maybe you want to go above and beyond with an entire series on evangelism and reaching the lost. That’s great! But we owe it to our students and to the Kingdom to pronounce the importance of the personal role we all play in evangelism.
5. Invest in Giving Ministry Away
The phrase “Giving Ministry Away” might confuse some. It is not supposed to mean that we neglect our ministerial responsibilities. Instead, we are encouraging and intentionally investing in others to minister to our students. We are actively seeking ways to include as many Godly people to invest in intentional Gospel relationships with our students. We are spreading the net of the Gospel and the reach of our ministry when we are enlisting and recruiting others to be involved in our student ministry. No man is an island. We need help in ministering to our students. But students also benefit from hearing the Gospel from others around them. They know us. They know we believe in the Gospel. They know what they can expect when we are teaching them. But they probably haven’t heard the Senior Adult Sunday School teacher lead a devotion. They probably haven’t heard from the ministry intern in a formal Wednesday night setting. They might not have had a personal connection with the senior pastor or someone else on staff. When we are giving ministry away we are not footing our responsibilities off on someone else but rather mobilizing the church and community as a whole to minister to our students. We do this so they have as many Godly influences as possible speaking the truth of Scripture into their lives. Find opportunities to let go and allow others the chance to serve the Kingdom.
* Lifeway Student Ministry Podcast, Episode 136: 5 Things Student Pastors Must Do Every Week, June 27,2018
Hunter Smith serves as Minister of Students, FBC Water Valley Miss. He has an MDiv from NOBTS and lives in Water Valley with his wife Sarah.