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Student Ministry: The Gospel and Social Justice

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Over the past two weeks I have spoken at two youth rallies and two youth retreats while finishing an article on mentoring students for the new MORF magazine produced by Student Life and NavPress (www.MORFmagazine.com).  This brief immersion in churched youth culture, while teaching a course on student ministry at the same time, reminds me of some patterns we see in the Millennial generation.

Millennials want to be part of a cause, something bigger than they are. They love Starbucks because when they walk into a third place like that they feel part of a community, something bigger than themselves. Social justice marks this tribe, from issues like invisible children and human trafficking, from orphans to cutters and To Write Love on Her Arms, young people today want more than a good “church” experience. I just finished a session with adult workers who talked about the students in their ministry who have dealt (or are dealing) with cutting and eating disorders, for instance. Research shows a church-only experience of Christianity actually contributes to students leaving church once they leave home (read about that here).

I recently spoke at a church where a young lady 14 years of age became aware of human trafficking. She started a website and raised several thousand dollars to help rescue young girls from the sex traffic trade in India. Did I mention she was 14? Her parents have helped her in this, but this is her ministry.

What cause has attracted the attention of your students? We do want to be careful not to lose the gospel in the middle of our social concerns (see an outstanding article by Dr. Russ Moore on the relationship between the gospel and social justice here), but if we truly understand the gospel, we cannot simply talk about it; we must live it out in a broken world (see I Thessalonians 2:8 for instance).

The day of attractional student ministry, where we merely do big events and invite students to come to the church building, well, that day is over. The day of engaging young people off the church campus in the broken world, in other words a more missional focus, must become a central focus of student ministry. I am signing a contract this week to write a book about that very subject because I believe it to be at the heart of where student ministry must change.

Next week I will be teaching a class called Missional Student Ministry with my dear friend and veteran student pastor Jeff Lovingood. I will be posting articles from the class. Please, move your student ministry focus off the church campus. Get your students thinking about and engaged with a broken world sooner not later.

What if every student ministry in America had just one student who did something like the 14 year old I mentioned above? If one student from every student ministry raised awareness of and helped in the fight against human trafficking, we might by that effort alone end it. Just imagine what would happen if we took student ministry from the youth room into the lives of the broken.

We might look more like Jesus. We might keep more students engaged in the faith.

We just might see a revolution.

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Alvin L. Reid (born 1959) serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two children: Joshua, a senior at The College at Southeastern, and Hannah, a senior at Wake Forest Rolesville High School. Recently he became more focused at ministry in his local church by being named Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin holds the M.Div and the Ph.D with a major in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary, and the B.A. from Samford University. He has spoken at a variety of conferences in almost every state and continent, and in over 2000 churches, colleges, conferences and events across the United States.