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Why There Is a Shortage of Student Ministers and What Can Be Done About It

Student Ministers
Photo via Unsplash.com @Jesus Loves Austin

NASHVILLE (BP) – Richard Ross has decades of experience when it comes to student ministry. And today, he’s observing a troubling trend.

“I often hear from churches searching for student pastors,” said Ross, senior professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “It would be a joy to provide them with names of potential candidates. But the vast percentage of the time, I have no name to share.

“From my perspective, there are far more churches searching for student pastors than there are leaders available to serve. At any given moment, I expect that the total number of churches with funded positions exceeds the total number of student pastors by several thousand.”

Shane Pruitt speaks to thousands of students and their leaders in his role as National Next Gen director for the North American Mission Board. He agrees with Ross and went so far as to address it in a video in August.

“Almost every week I get phone calls from three to five local churches looking for youth pastors or college pastors,” he said. It’s always followed by asking if there is a shortage.

“I think the easy answer is ‘yes,’” he said.

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The subject isn’t relegated to the United States. “Churches are desperate for youth workers. So why can’t they find any?” asked a headline in Premiere Christianity magazine, based in the United Kingdom.

Various reasons arise. They aren’t paid nor appreciated enough. They don’t receive adequate training. They get tired of being asked when they’re going to move up to “real ministry.”

A common one is that there simply aren’t enough in the pipeline.

The church-planting emphasis over the last 12 years or so almost certainly led many young pastors to pursue that avenue who otherwise would have entered student ministry. Ross believes many seasoned student ministers remain in their calling, but in the role of next generation or family pastor. Those titles typically expand responsibilities beyond middle and high school to include children and college students.

“Student pastors entering midlife may see family ministry or next-gen ministry as a better fit for them.” Ross said.

Russell Jackson is family pastor at Holly Creek Baptist Church in Chatsworth, Ga., transitioning to that position two years ago after serving as student pastor. He and others recently responded to questions on the topic in a private Facebook group for the Georgia Student Ministry Network. All gave permission for their comments to be used.

Jackson oversees kindergarten through college ministries at Holly Creek. Teams of volunteers work the children’s and student ministries, with Jackson focusing on collegians.

“Yes, it is a lot of areas to oversee, but I have great help and wonderful families,” he said.

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Several factors could lead to student ministers moving to other roles, said Jonathan Brantley, a veteran student minister who has served in Virginia and Georgia.

Salaries can make it difficult to provide for your family, he said, “especially if they are moving into an area where houses are 60 percent more than what the average church member paid 30 years ago.”

Ross agreed. “We need to recognize that student pastors taking on new and even more important roles will need salary support,” he said. “They should not have to change jobs only because they cannot afford braces and trombones for their growing families.”

A perspective that student ministry is the “junior league” can also wear you down, Brantley said.