Ministry offers more than its share of surprises, unexpected turns, and a myriad of ways in which the Lord can teach you about His mission and how you or I fit into that. For instance, I never thought ten years ago that at almost 53 I would be so involved in student ministry. but I love it. I have great hope in this generation and hope that we can see a renewed church that will both reach this generation and engage them in the mission of God.
I also thoroughly enjoy both pastors and student pastors. This week I had interaction with scores of student pastors, many I know and many I only met briefly, at the Youth Pastor Summit offered by Student Leadership University.
I spend a lot of time with lead pastors and with student pastors. I want to humbly offer a word of counsel primarily to pastors regarding a frustration I hear constantly from student pastors. It has to do with two words that have become a staple of the institutional church that would have been unknown in the early church before a time when buildings dominated church life. The two words?
I recognize the student pastors I hang out and interact with have probably a more evangelistic bent to them. I am unambiguously committed to the fact that ministers of the gospel regardless of title should give much time to sharing Christ themselves and to helping believers live the mission. But the student pastors I know have perhaps no greater frustration than the fact that they have an expectation to be at the church building X hours a week when they would much rather be in the local schools, at ball games, and in other ways interacting with students in the community.
Pastors, you have every right to expect student pastors to work hard and to have hours where they are available to lead, plan, witness, disciple, and mentor. Just please do one thing: let student pastors fill those hours off the church campus.
Sidebar: nothing says “institutional church” like the fact that in most churches the second position that matters after the pastor is the worship pastor/minister of music, for whom the overwhelming responsibility is what happens in church services at the church building. Corporate worship matters, and the church gathered weekly forms a fundamental part of a believer’s life. But it seems a bit silly to say with our words how vital it is for our people to live missional lives when we actually structure our church ministries to declare the scorecard that really matters is the number of people in our buildings on Sunday while giving far less attention financially, structurally, and in staffing to the commission of Christ as expressed in Acts 1:8.
I sometimes wonder if the missional shift really happens in our time if the way we staff churches will not be totally blown up and reconsidered. But I digress. Sorry for the ADD moment.
Back to student pastors. If you are a student pastor, you need accountability. Unfortunately more than a few of your peers could use a little shot of discipline in the arm and you suffer for it. If you feel the need to be out of the church building and in the schools and the community more, help your pastor to see that you are not shirking your responsibility to be available to others, but for you “office hours” can be held away from the church campus. The most vibrant student ministries I know feature student pastors who spend as much time on the public school campus each week as on the church campus.
Students of mine know that I am a multisite office guy. I have my office at the seminary, where I meet with students immediately before or after class and where I always meet female students. But I also have three other “offices”—the Wake Forest Coffee Company near campus, the local Starbucks, and my favorite, my automobile. I travel a lot and speak, so I take students with me (and have at times taken unsaved friends as well). Ministry, even for a professor, involves more than a building.
How much time do you need to spend in the office? Depends on a lot of factors. Counseling is best done there, as is meeting with other staff or time with leaders planning events. Some student pastors are quite effective in getting loads of students to come and hang out at his office after school. But from what I see and hear, most student pastors (and I daresay other ministers) spend way too much time filling office hours in the church and not enough time being in the community. This is a remarkably modern phenomenon created more by the industrial revolution and the rise of corporate America than the mission of God or the needs of a broken world. This is a Third Place world, a world where even corporate America increasingly encourages workers to be portable, to work from home, in Starbucks, in virtual offices. Maybe once again the church can follow the world and relearn ministry in the community. It would be better to learn it from Christ, wouldn’t it?
So pastor, talk to your student pastor. Student pastor, talk to your pastor. Staff, get together and talk about your mission and how you communicate it, because how you structure your ministry daily says more to those you lead than what you say with your words. Figure out a way to help the person given primary responsibility to work with students to actually be with students more during the week. Ask yourself if the expectations of staff in terms of office hours and schedule really reflect a robust commitment to the Great Commission. If you have a student pastor with a zeal for witnessing to lost students, to mentoring growing students, and to helping saved students live as missionaries, set him free to be in the community more than a cubicle.
I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on this.