Student ministries like other age-based ministries tend to help students value Jesus but fail when it comes to helping students value the local church.
I’ve been in student ministry at a local church for 3 years now. In the new year I’ve made it a goal of mine to encourage a select few of our high school students to pursue church membership. In the past three years I have seen most of my students pursue church membership. These students are fruit-bearers. They’ve completed membership classes and have gone through the waters of baptism. The elders have affirmed their profession of faith. I’ve been able to hear their testimonies and watch them grow in maturity.
When you think of student ministry, does church membership also come to your mind? Typically, things like a pizza party, lock-ins, and chubby bunny can come to mind. But this doesn’t have to be the case! Student pastors should go into each year praying, encouraging, and equipping their regenerate students to join the local church. It should be an expectation!
According to a 2017 Lifeway Research poll, students between the ages of 18-22 stop attending church regularly. What is the local church calling these students to commit to when they gather during their high school years? Church membership, or nothing?
Here are three reasons I believe we should not shy away from inviting born-again high school students to covenant with their local church.
Distinct for Discipleship
During the Spring of every year, our momma cows would begin to calve on our little farm I grew up on. Dad and I had the task of tagging each of the calves so we would be able to identify which cows belonged to us and which ones did not. One of us would watch the momma cow while the other would gently approach the calf to catch it. We would tag it in the ear and then let it go.
Our little farm was surrounded by other farms with cattle. The reason we tagged the calves was to identify them as our own. When you join the church you won’t get a tag in your ear, but hopefully you will be encouraged to pursue the distinguishing mark of church membership.
Within student ministry, it is difficult for student ministry leaders to tell who believers are and who are not. Church membership helps this issue. Student ministry is a ministry to those who have not responded in faith to the gospel and a ministry to engage students with the ministry of the Word. The task of the church is ensuring that those who proclaim to be in the faith are being discipled.
Why is church membership important for high school students? It makes them identifiable as believers because the entire church has collectively said, “Yes, we can say that this person is a follower of Jesus Christ, and we will help them follow Jesus.” There’s nothing in Scripture that gives me the authority to make disciples of students who are not following Jesus. I can present the gospel. I can teach the Word. I can assist their parents in leading them to Christ, but Christian discipleship is reserved for born-again, regenerate Christians and the responsibility to see this carried out is the covenant members of the local church.
Committed to Serving the Church Now
How are students within the church typically viewed? Distracting? Rowdy? Immature? But when it comes to moving equipment, taking out the trash, or setting up for the Christmas play, we look to students for their help. Why not call these Christian school-age students to covenant with the Body of believers? If you have students that you can affirm who bear fruit, and are genuine Christians, then encourage them to join the church.
When they join the church, they won’t be viewed as just warm bodies that are limber enough to climb a ladder to clear out clogged gutters. They will be viewed as brothers and sisters in Christ who are to be held responsible for how they serve the Body. If we are being intentional about sharing the gospel, charge these students to consider whether they are in Christ or not. If they are, encourage them to pursue church membership.
Within the student ministry in my church, we have had students serve on the A/V team, connections team, or in our children’s ministry. Serving the church now sets up students to serve the local church in the future. Helping born-again students see that they should covenant with the church tears down any barriers that would prevent them from spiritual growth later.
We should not look to the Christian students within our church as free labor, but as freed laborers who are set apart by God to serve His church.
Equipped for the College Years
College students are trying to figure out if they will commit to a church or not now. I was a sophomore in college before I took the local church seriously. Some of them do not know what they are even supposed to look for in a church. Some believe that their church membership back in their hometown is sufficient.
Dave Russell in his article “Church Membership ‘Back Home’ is not Enough” writes, “Living somewhere temporarily doesn’t negate the call to be in the fellowship of the local church.” But students have not been equipped by previous churches or student ministries to see the need to commit themselves to a local church in their college years. So, they default to their campus ministry as their local church and visit the church they grew up in only when they go back home.
While campus ministries are helpful, they are not the church. The four years students spend in college is a pivotal time for them to search for a church that will encourage them to press on in their faith. How will these students know how to find a church? Were you equipped to find a church when you went off to college? Should parents just sit back and hope they stumble through the doors of a church? Will just any church do?
Every March I take my students through three weeks of digging into what a healthy church is through a series called Marks in March. We look at three marks of a healthy church from Mark Dever’s book, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, and I stir discussion that helps my students be ready to know what to look for in a church. Is it my ambition that these students would know Jesus? Yes! But it is also my ambition that the born-again students would see the importance of the local church and commit to serving the church wherever they go.
We should not view the students within our care in their junior high and high school years like a paper sailboat that we push out into a stream hoping that the rushing waters and wind will navigate them to the right destination. We should not leave it up to chance that our students will somehow stay committed to the local church. Brothers and sisters, if students are church members coming out of high school, I guarantee that it will be an easy transition to a church as they head off to college.
Fellow student pastors and ministers, charge your high school students to commit themselves to the local church now.