Don’t you just hate it when people look at student ministry as a stepping-stone? How dare someone take our calling and belittle it to a mere hoop to jump through. I have had heated and passionate conversations with many colleagues around this topic, and as I write this today, most of those people have done just that. They used to be in student ministry and have stepped into another calling. The problem is, at the core of our being, we fear that it might actually be true, student ministry really is a stepping-stone.
For many young people who sense a call into ministry, student ministry is the only real place for someone to work out their call. As a recent college graduate there is only one option to explore vocational ministry, and it is with students. I have yet to see a church hire a 22 year old pastor of spiritual formation, or teaching pastor, or small groups pastor. But many churches would love to hire a 22 year old to work with their students.
And the truth is that student ministry is a great place to explore a calling into ministry. In this job you realize that ministry is complex and challenging. You begin to understand the emotional and spiritual weight of walking through life and working out issues of faith with people. You also begin to realize that a call into ministry involves paperwork, politics, budgets, and bosses. And through the graciousness of God, if you can make it through the church’s version of hell week, then you might be called into vocational ministry.
The greatest gift about vocational ministry is that whatever your unique passion is, whatever context gets you the most excited, and whatever unique gifts and talents you bring to the table, there is a place for you to serve in the Church. Student ministry is only one, very small slice of what this call to vocational ministry could look like.
It makes sense that so many people view student ministry as a stepping stone, because that is what is happening. Many people are using student ministry as a place to being exploring this call. And as God clarifies their call, many people move on to be faithful to the new place where God leads. Many of my colleagues have left student ministry to be church planters, associate pastors, heads of non prophets, teachers, and even a mailman.
For me, it wasn’t until I had turned 30 and completed my M.Div. that I actually felt called to student ministry. It was the first time in my life that I had many doors open to me in the ministry world, and of all the options, student ministry was the place where God wanted me to stay. But for me, and I would guess even for you, student ministry still is just a stepping-stone. Will I be doing this when I am 40, 50, 60? Only Steve Pace can say yes to this, and I bet that even Steve would see his role in student ministry dramatically different than he did in his 30’s and even his 40’s.
The fundamental issues is not whether or not student ministry is a stepping-stone, but it is rather, are we being faithful to listen to God and obey his calling. The psalmist says that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. I am pretty sure that we are only supposed to see one or two stones at a time and we walk along this path of calling. If we get too hung up on this stepping-stone business then we will miss out on opportunities that God might have for us, and worse, crush the calling God may have on our colleagues.
May we fully live out our calling to students while we are on this stone. And when the voice of God calls us, or our fellow youth workers, into an another area of service, we will gladly and faithfully go wherever that is. For the glory and honor of Jesus Christ. (Today, I am glad that it is still on the student ministry stone!)