Culture Change: There Are No Shortcuts in Student Ministry

One of the best things I have come to realize about being a Student Pastor is that at any point, any season, and for any reason I feel called to act, I can completely change what I do not like about the Student Ministry I am leading. I can stop doing the monotonous, the uncreative, the “this is what we do” mentality, and completely change what does not make us great. I am not sure if you know this, but you can too! In fact, it is actually what you are called to do as a leader: to create, refocus, or reinvent something that may be broken, outdated, or completely lacking so the obstacles that make faith so complicated can be minimized as much as possible. However, here is where the tension lies, many of us never actually do this.

To be truthful, this is not uncommon. When you or I take over the role of leading students we are looked at to have all the answers and have them quickly; but if we were honest, the majority of us leading Student Ministries are not always prepared for the messes, complications, or lapses in the ministries we lead. Because of that truth, I 100% believe that there are no shortcuts to changing your culture for the better. There is no easy button, magic wizard, or leprechaun with magical powers that will get you 200+ students every week, 50+ first time guests, 100 people serving weekly, 50+ Spiritual Decisions, and amazing student experiences that would parallel some of the best in the country. In fact, while most of us may be envious of those that accomplish such things, few of us have the culture in place that would breed statistics, traction, or momentum seen in those stats.

Why? Because if we were to be authentic, honest, and transparent, a lot of us would admit that there are holes in our ministry that keep us from infinite possibilities! For instance, did you know that changing the culture, does not start with students? In fact, your students are a later part of the equation when it comes to changing your culture. If you want to have a culture that uses its influence to impact people, then you start with the people who are impacting students: Leaders & Parents.

Disagree all you want, but there are numbers that matter in Student Ministry like, for example, how many leaders you have and how many of them have bought into the vision and culture you are trying to create. The truth is, you cannot develop the culture of your student ministry without having a deep leadership team that loves well. Maybe for you deep is 15, 30, or maybe even 60+. Whatever number that is, every leader you have on your team can love, care for, and notice 5-7 students well. So do the math, if you have 50 students and only 5 leaders, then that leaves around 15 students slipping through the cracks [because at best 5x7=35]. This is a scenario that happens all the time in Student Ministry, but if you want to start changing your culture, start with the hearts of the leaders who will be leading your students and challenge them in the same vein as the vision the student ministry is going. If you focus on biblical depth, great. If you decide to focus on relational depth awesome. If you are trying to accomplish both, then more power to you, but you will start to change your culture if you get leaders to buy into the dream of where you want to go.

It blows my mind when we as Student Pastors change huge things in our churches D.N.A. without asking the right questions or discussing the variables of change with the people those changes will affect the most: Parents. I admit parents can be complicated and most of the time they do not always think big picture or years down the road, but they do want what is best for their student. Therefore you have a huge selling point as long as you execute what you are selling. Parents are simple, they want their student to be cared for really well and if you explain to them why changing specific things is in the best interest of their students then they will be on board for what you are doing; especially as you reap positive results that build up trust in your relationship as a student pastor with them the parent and their student. In order to do this though, include your parents by getting their feedback before huge changes take place. Shepherd them by talking about the things going on in their students’ lives and how they as parents can help. Dream with them about the future of their student and the ministry they hopefully will be attending. Disagree all you want about including your parents in the changing of your culture, but it is the student pastors that include, shepherd, and dream with the parents that add longevity and support to their vision.

Lastly, we finally get to the people we have the privilege to lead: Our Students. One of the greatest joys we get to experience as Student Pastors is to see our students learn how to use their influence to impact people. It is not only our joy, but it is our passion. Because students are our passion though we need to make sure we are not short changing the students we are serving. We need to be creative and dream. We need to spend time recruiting new leaders. We need to find the holes that keep our Student Ministries from being amazing places where eternities are changed forever; but we cannot do so if we try to find the easy button and avoid this complicated task. Culture is hard to change and it has its ups and downs, but the possibilities that come with change could just make the world of difference for you as a leader and the students you are leading.

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