Every year, student ministries lose their senior class. As a Student Pastor, I used to lament this transition. I would dwell on the fact that we spent seven years investing in the same students, watching them grow through the ups and downs. And right when it seemed like they were really starting to get it, “poof” they were gone.
The nearest college was an hour away, and I knew most, if not all, of those graduates would never be a part of our church again. In my mind, I had spent a lot of time sowing seeds I would never get to harvest.
Thankfully, God totally shifted my short-sighted and, honestly, self-centered view of student ministry. I have since come to see the beauty of a ministry that is continually evolving and impacting the kingdom beyond the walls of our local church.
My entire philosophy of student ministry changed with this one major realization: Our high school graduates aren’t leaving; we’re sending them. This simple change in wording totally shifted my view and practice of student ministry.
As followers of Jesus, we know that making disciples of all nations is the calling of every believer, every ministry, and every church. But I have come to firmly believe that student ministries are uniquely positioned to be mission sending agencies within the local church.
Here are four reasons why:
1. Students are already going.
In order to fulfill the Great Commission, going is essential to the equation. Jesus said so himself (Matthew 28:19). But for many, uprooting their lives to start over in a new place can be an obstacle. This is not always the case for students. They are already doing it.
Every year, high school graduates move to new cities, form new social connections, and plant roots in new places. While we know not all students leave home, those that do often move to college towns and big cities with significant unreached populations.
What if students moved to these places equipped with a missional mindset? What if their home church commissioned them with a task much bigger than receiving a college degree or landing a good job? What if instead of simply leaving home, they were sent with the understanding that they would live on mission with intentionality wherever God plants them?
2. Students are in student ministry for some of the most formative years of their lives.
In student ministry, we get seven years (six in some churches) to evangelize lost students and train them up to be disciples. The seven years they are under our watch are absolutely crucial. During these seven years, hyper middle schoolers become young men and women. They grow physically, emotionally, and spiritually, changing in more ways than perhaps at any other stage in life.
We also know that a heart for missions is often formed at a young age. Many career missionaries point to their childhood and teenage years as the beginning of their passion for reaching the nations. What greater calling could we have than to train up the next generation of missionaries?
Students must leave our ministries knowing exactly what God has called them to do: proclaim the gospel to those who haven’t believed or even heard it yet. We have seven years to train them to do it.
3. Students are available.
I’m going to step out on a limb here and guess that most students leave student ministry single, childless, debt-free, and relatively healthy and energetic. This places them in a perfect position to live a radical, missional lifestyle.
While we know God calls all of us to live on mission despite our life circumstances, the Apostle Paul makes clear that some are able to have a more singular focus than others. In his discussion on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul encourages singleness because of its advantage in doing ministry. He calls the believers in the Corinthian church to have “undivided devotion to the Lord” (v. 35).
What stage of life provides a greater opportunity for undivided devotion than a recent high school graduate? Yes, they still have maturing to do, but what better way to mature than serving the Lord on his mission?
Each year, as high school seniors weigh their post-graduation options, we need to come alongside them and help them see how the gospel impacts their decisions. Many organizations and leaders are already leading this charge by calling students to choose colleges and careers in strategic mission locations. Students have the opportunity to join church-planting teams and use their unique availability to serve the local church. Students even have the ability to partner with organizations like the International Mission Board and spend a summer, semester, or gap year laboring alongside an overseas missionary. Let’s encourage students to not waste their unique season of availability.
4. This generation wants their lives to count.
Researchers of Gen Z continue to point out that one of the trends of this generation is the desire to make an impact on the world. They are more conscious of injustice, more connected to the wider world, and more diverse than previous generations.
We have the opportunity to take this desire and show them how God’s mission fulfills it in ways they can only imagine. No matter where they go or what career they choose, they can have an impact on the world that echoes into eternity. Unlike what the world says, their lives can count regardless of their GPA, test scores, degree, salary, or social influence.
The students that sit in your local church each week are in prime position to be trained and sent out as missionaries for gospel impact wherever the Lord places them. The question is: what will you do to get them there?