What my students need most from me is my personal holiness.
There has been no shortage of discussion surrounding the reasons why there is an exodus of 18-year-olds that walk away from Christ and his church after graduation. Plenty of contributing reasons exists, such as they weren’t integrated into the life of the church, they did not see Christian faith modeled at home, or their youth ministry was centered around entertainment. But could it be possible that another reason teenagers walk away is because their student pastor lacked a personal pursuit of holiness?
There is an odd pressure to minister to teenagers, the youth pastor needs to be like the teenagers. Certainly, we want students to have a pastor who can relate to them well and someone who can also build relationships. It’s not inherently sinful to know the same pop-culture references the students do or to wear the latest Nike’s when you preach. Even so, student pastors are often deceived into exchanging a life of holiness for a life of relevance. Our teens do not need us to be hip–they need us to be holy.
Is it possible that teenagers who walk away from the faith do so because they had a student pastor who was cool but not Christ-like?
A Student Pastor is a Pastor
Student pastors are not party hosts. We are not operating a glorified after-school program. We are humble shepherds leading the flock entrusted to our care. The call for every pastor is the call to be holy (1 Pet. 1:15; Titus 1:8). If we disregard this part of our calling, we disregard not man but God (1 Thess. 4:8). If we operate under this regard for God, why are we surprised when our ministries are left wanting? Why are we still scratching our heads when we are not seeing the Spirit of God give life? “We hope for light, and behold darkness” (Isa. 59:9). We are so quick to consider an abundance of other factors for a lack of life in our ministries: the location was not right, the weather was bad, the teaching was weak, the speaker was not the best, the game flopped, people were distracted, we had technical difficulties, masks are a hindrance, social distancing is a burden. When do we stop looking around and start looking at ourselves?
Do not be deceived, God’s hand is not shortened (Isa. 59:1). He can save our students with or without us. He can pour out his Spirit on any ministry at any moment. Yet there is no reason for us to expect our people will be drawing water from the wells of salvation if we will not live by the Fountain ourselves.
Three Exhortations for Student Pastors
If we want to see Christ at work in our student ministry, we must be holy. “Strive for holiness, which without no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). Here are three exhortations for student pastors to pursue holiness in Christ for the sake of those under their care.
1. Pursue holiness so your preaching and teaching have the power to save.
Do you want your Wednesday night sermons to have the power to save and sanctify? If so, God tells pastors then to watch their personal life and doctrine. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). This is the biblical mandate for student pastors to never sacrifice their time spent alone with God in his Word. The whole power of your ministry depends on this. If we do not abide with Christ in his Word, then we can do nothing (John 15:5). Students will be drawn to the Savior when they see how precious the Savior is to us. There is a unique power and filling of the God’s man who leads from the overflow of having been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
2. Pursue holiness so that your labor will be useful.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “In great measure according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus.” Paul said, “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim 2:21). We will never be useful in student ministry if we numb our affections for Christ by playing hours of Call of Duty each night. How can we have a heart that is ready to show others the humility of the Suffering Servant, if we sit in our office stirring up theological division online?
May we maximize the time in our study to be fully devoted to Christ and his purposes, rather than wasting the Master’s time by endlessly scrolling on our phones. Redeem your time at home by using free time to stir your affections for Christ. Read books like Charles Bridge’s The Christian Ministry or J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. I feel weak even writing these words knowing how prone I am to waste the Lord’s time on things that do not matter. Yet, Christ is gracious still. Let us not get bogged down with worldly recreation while the souls in our care wallow in their sin.
3. Pursue holiness so that the Lord will build his church.
If we will not be in constant dependence on God to give the growth, then all our labors in youth ministry will be in vain (Ps. 127:1–2). This is the call for us as student pastors to give ourselves to the labor of private prayer. Our ministry may appear to be successful when we have great attendance. Yet, if we are not on our knees each day pleading with the Lord for the souls of our people, then all those long hours of work will only produce shallow disciples who get bored with the church at 19-years old. We must be youth pastors who are holy men of prayer. E.M. Bounds said, “The man–God’s man–is made in the closet.”
May we approach God humbly as we pray for our people, confessing our desperate need for His mercy on us. Our prayers for Christ to give growth can actually be hindered if I am mistreating my wife or not confessing my sin (1 Pet 3:7; Jam. 5:16). Let us draw near to the throne of grace each day and depend on him to give faith and life to our students.
Student Pastor, let us not spend our energy seeking to be trendy but seeking to be holy. We all stumble in our pursuit of godliness, but the Lord’s mercy is new every morning (Lam 3:23). Live much in smiles of God. Our students need us to be near to Jesus.
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