Write it Down

Twenty-four hours would seem like a long time if you were to sit still for that entire time period. In our fast-paced, quick fix, want it now culture, twenty-four hours goes by fairly quickly for most. We always seem to not get something done in the day we were hoping to get done. Sometimes, even if we do get the project finished we were really wanting to finish that day, we half way do it and then quickly move on. I have always been a firm believer in whatever is the most important to you is what you will spend the most time invested in.

There are multiple things I use everyday of my life. If you were to ask my closest friends they would probably tell you I couldn’t go a day without my iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. With that said, there are three things that I need and especially use everyday of my life. What are they?…

My Bible. An ink pen. My journal.

A mentor friend of mine once asked me this question, “Do you keep a journal of what God is teaching you?” My immediate reaction was one of surprise mixed with a little confusion. Why would he ask this? To be honest the only time I had really written down what God had taught me was at summer youth camp when they gave me a quiet time guide for the week. The more I thought about this, the more I realized the importance of consistently practicing this discipline. For the Christ follower, it is through this you can take a look back and see where God has stretched you, grown you, and challenged you. Even in the hard times, it is awesome to look back and see how God clearly revealed Himself and worked in and through situations. Now, during my daily quiet time, I journal. Through the lenses of God’s Word, what do I write down?

1. Prayers. I write out personal prayers and people/situations I’m praying for. I also write out prayers based on the Scripture text I’m reading that particular day. If you have never written out prayers before, I strongly encourage you too… it is very powerful.

2. Life’s victories and struggles. This is a big one for me and where I’m brutally honest. I write down where I’m struggling to lead well or where I’m not fully trusting God. I write down things I’m worried about. I also write down where God has/is blessing and things are going well. When you write down life’s victories and struggles, one of the things you will you clearly see is where the flesh is at war with the Holy Spirit. It’s actually quite convicting.

3. Praises to and about God. This may sound fairly basic but it is so important to remember. I believe in different seasons of life God reveals different aspects about His character to us. Anytime you read Scripture it is always important to ask and answer this question, “What does this passage of Scripture teach me about God?” While personal application of Scripture is definitely necessary, I believe in first asking what the passage teaches us about God.

If you have never consistently kept a journal it will probably take some time to develop it as a habit, it did for me anyway. However, I strongly encourage you to write it down. Write down what God is teaching you and how He is shaping you. The key is to do this through the lens of God’s Word. If you put anything down, put down the journal not your Bible. This is and always has been where we clearly know God and His mission.

1 John 1:4 (NASB), “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”

Three Prayers for Students As They Start School

Summer is coming to a close and for families, students, teachers, and administrations all over the nation school is about to begin. This may excite some and for others this may be nerve-wracking or even frustrating. Some parents will be taking their kids to kindergarten for the very first time. For some families they will be taking their kid to the “big” middle school or high school for the first time. This also means back to routine, homework, test, and friday night football games with the marching band playing at halftime. Within the context of local church student ministry, there is huge opportunity that awaits. The opportunity to reach campuses filled with students who need to hear the Gospel. We must be diligent in equipping students to see this incredible mission field and to make Kingdom impact. We must also be committed to pray like crazy. There are three ways I consistently pray for students during the school year.

1. Prayer for Wisdom. Wisdom is not simply knowledge but yet knowing what to do with that knowledge. This starts with a fear and awe of who God is and then leads us to pursuing Him each and every day. In the book of James, Scripture teaches us that wisdom that comes from God is pure, its full of mercy and good fruits (James 3:17). The book of James also teaches us that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it and He will give it generously (James 1:5). Pray that students would increase in intellectual and spiritual knowledge (Luke 2:52). More than that, that they would grow in Godly wisdom.

2. Prayer for Boldness. Boldness is a scary thought for students because it can often be uncomfortable. Pray that students would take Godly wisdom and discernment and be bold in sharing their faith; that they would always be thinking and praying through people to share their faith with. Gospel-centered, Jesus-loving, passionate, bold (opposite from self-righteous and annoying), students are desperately needed in classrooms, on the ball field, and walking down the hallways of our schools. Boldness is often contagious and this leads to greater impact (Acts 2:47).

3. Prayer for Faithfulness. True faithfulness is hard to find these days. Its seems as if more and more people only stay faithful to a mission when its convenient or doesn’t require much sacrifice. Pray students are faithful to what the Lord has called them to; that they would persevere when its tough (1 Corinthians 9:24), seek Godly accountability in areas they struggle in (Proverbs 27:17), and love Christ more than anything else (Matthew 22:37-38). A strong commitment to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is a must for a disciple of Jesus Christ. Pray students are faithful to the Gospel- to love it, live it, and share it.

Colossians 3:2-4 (HCSB), “{2} Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. {3} At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison, {4} so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak.”

Student Ministry, Evangelism, and the Sovereignty of God

Recently, I took an evangelism class in seminary. One of the books we read was J.I. Packers’ Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Within this we unpacked God’s and humanity’s role in reaching the lost for Christ. No matter where you end up theologically on things like the sovereignty of God, total depravity, and the doctrine of election, the bottom line is this: you are in an intimate relationship with the Savior of the world or you are not.

As a result of this class I continued the evaluation process of what was already heavy on my heart: are we really reaching this generation for the cause of Christ? Are lost students in our doors on a weekly basis? Are we waiting for students to come to us or are we actively seeking them out?

I firmly believe in all three of these things: student ministry within the context of the local church, evangelizing the lost, and the sovereignty of God. For clarification purposes, the sovereignty of God can best be understood through the lenses of Isaiah 46:10, Colossians 1:17, and Acts 17:28.

When thinking and processing these three things strategically the following thoughts (with Scripture passages) came to mind…

1. Students and families need to be boldly reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 28:19-20, “19Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Ephesians 2:1-5, “1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!”

Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

2. Christ following students are called to reach others with the only true source of hope there is- Jesus Christ.
John 14:6, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, Himself human.

Matthew 5:14-16, “14You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

3. Students are often nervous about sharing their faith; the sovereignty of God provides needed confidence in the work of Christ in and around them.
Ephesians 1:11-12, “11We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, 12so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory.”

 
4. We must help students and families understand that Christ alone changes hearts, minds, and ultimately saves. Christ is the Savior; we are privileged to be the vessel.
Revelation 7:10, “And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

 2 Timothy 2:10, “This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”

Scripture passages taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

Dear Christ Following College Student…

Dear Christ Following College Student,

I want you to know that as your brother in Christ I’m praying for you. The season of life you’re in right now is so crucial to the upcoming years of your life. It probably seems that every time you turn the corner there is another decision to be made. It probably also seems there is another temptation knocking at your door. Remember, as a Christ follower the Holy Spirit resides in you. Don’t lose sight of this, lean on this, and fully embrace this. He, being fully God, resides in you to bring about conviction, discernment, and encouragement. He loves you.

You may be thinking right now, “I’m not sure what to do. This all seems like so much at once.” Rest easy in Proverbs 2:6 which teaches that wisdom comes from the LORD. He gives us understanding.  A wise person once told me that sometimes it’s what you don’t do that makes the difference. Share your faith with that classmate that you know is lost. Be the vessel Christ created you to be.

As a college pastor I hear stories from lots of university students. Some of them make me laugh, some of them break my heart. In this season of life it’s so important that you find time to be in the Word every day. Maybe this is a struggle for you with everything else going on right now. In Scripture you find the God that created you and what He is like. You will find exactly who He is and how He dealt with situations and people. You will find how He resisted temptation. You will find stories of other Christ followers. Some that made great decisions and some that made poor decisions. So much clarity can come from these times in the Word. Please don’t replace intimate time with Jesus each and every day. When you are reading Scripture pray this simple prayer, “Speak LORD, your servant is listening.”

My desire is that you will earnestly pray through decisions and worship and serve with a local body of believers. You need to be a part of the local church now, more than ever. Christ instituted the church for a reason. Don’t only be a part of the local church, be the local church.

Remember, you’re not always going to “get it right” but keep on in your pursuit of holiness. Hebrews 13:5 teaches us that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. I end this letter to you with the words of Proverbs 3:5-6 (HCSB), “{5} Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; {6} think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.”

Your Brother in Christ.

7 Things I Would Say to a Christ-Following Student Entering College

University students all across the nation began their fall semesters within the last couple of weeks. For some of these students they did this for the very first time. They left emotional parents, high school, and life routines they have always known, to embark on the college journey. As a college minister, I have seven pieces of advice that I would share with a young man or young lady calling themselves a Christian as they are entering college.

1. Find a local church family to be in community with. Let me start off by saying I love campus ministries. They play a huge purpose-filled role in the life a college student. Some college students however, connect only with a campus ministry and never plug-in with a local church family. Find a church home away from home where you can serve, worship, and fellowship in. Make sure it’s a Bible-believing, doctrinal sound church, with a heart for missions.

2. Be sure you have a daily plan for reading God’s Word. As a university student, the word “busy” is an understatement. Students have class schedules, work schedules, weekends they go home and come back, practices and games for athletes, club meetings, and the list goes on and on. In the midst of all this, time spent in God’s Word can get lost. As Christ followers, our spiritual development hugely weighs on the time we spend in God’s Word. If we want to hear from God we must be in His Word.

3. Be good stewards of time and money. Most college students would say they struggle with not having enough time or money. In regards to time management it’ s huge for a college student to be on a system. Block out times in which you will study for each class you are in. Block out times in which you will read God’s Word. Block out times for R&R. Block out times for hanging out with friends. As far as money goes… yeah I didn’t have much in college either. But what little money I did have I didn’t spend very wisely. Both of these aspects (time management and money) are much easier said than done. I’m still working on them but the key is to be getting better at them each and every day.

4. Spend quality time with mentor figures. There is something to be said about spending time with people who have “been there and done that.” Personally, I still spend time with people who have been in ministry much longer than I have. In this time I ask questions, listen, learn, pray, and take in constructive criticism. There is huge value in this. College students…please have these people in your life.

5. Spend quality time praying through decisions. The college years are full of decisions; some of these decisions are life long decisions. “What should I major in?” “Who will I date?” “Will I go to grad school or take that full-time job opportunity?” “Where is God leading me?” All these questions I have heard from countless college students. Spend hours and hours on your knees when making decisions that will impact your future.

6. Choose your friends wisely. Initially, this statement may sound “elementary” or like something you would say to a middle school or high school student. However, this is huge for college students. As the old saying goes, “you are who you hang out with.” I have seen too many “God-fearing” students step on a college campus and get lost. I’m not referencing getting lost trying to find a class (which I have seen and is pretty funny) but lost in life and faith. College students… who are you allowing to influence your life?

7. LOVE and enjoy the college years. This really is a very exciting time in your life. Go to sporting events and paint up your face. Go on an international mission trip. Eat cold pizza from the night before (just kidding I would not suggest doing that!). Go to a restaurant with a group of friends that gives free dessert to college students. Enjoy yourself because this really is one of the most special times in your life. In the midst of the enjoyment, make wise decisions. Reflect Jesus in all you do, bring Him glory!

Students and Theology

I put a lot of effort into my teaching time with students. I also understand that it’s the responsibility of parents to be the main disciple-maker for their own children. With that being said, it’s also the job of student ministries to come behind parents and teach students the Scriptures. This is why I spend many hours planning, preparing, and presenting clear, Gospel-centered, theologically accurate messages. I even have a pastor friend that I send “theology check”  text messages to. Typically these are one sentence statements (usually my bottom line in a message) that I make sure are not off base.

Sadly, when it comes to theology, for some reason, too many student ministry leaders tend to get nervous. They will look at the student pastor and say, “Isn’t that your job?” While that statement is true it’s also not the whole truth. Pastors are not the only people on the planet that can teach students. That is why we MUST embrace teaching theology to students, not neglect it. When thinking through this four ideas come to mind…

 1. Students CAN handle theology. There is a huge myth behind the statement… “Students can’t handle theological concepts” or the statement “That’s the job of the senior pastor.” These two statements drive me crazy on two levels. First, it makes me feel like I’m “less of a pastor” than a senior pastor and two, it makes it sounds like teenagers are not intelligent. Students can handle theology and its the job of parents and student ministries to teach it to them. How we accomplish this can be done in many ways. Maybe its through a mid-week teaching series, in a small group bible study environment, or through a basic discipleship relationship between adult volunteers and students. No matter how we do, we need to be doing it.

 2. It gives students a correct understanding of the Savior.  By teaching students theology it gives them a much deeper, more biblically accurate, understanding of God. Through theology (meaning, “the study of God”) we get more acquainted with the character, attributes, and nature of God. I believe students have a difficult time telling their family and friends about God because they themselves don’t have a clear understanding of who God actually is. This is heart-breaking.

 3. Shallow teaching of the Scriptures will only help in producing shallow students. Following along with the theme of students having a deeper understanding of God, we must understand that this starts and ends with the Scriptures. We must faithfully teach students the Scriptures and out of that students naturally will grow in their understanding of God. When all we are giving students is fluff and “an itch to hear something new” (2 Timothy 4:3) then we are missing a huge opportunity and I believe neglecting our calling. Students need sound doctrine and I pray their understanding of God is deepened through our student ministries.

 4. Students desire to know more about faith, doctrine, and worldviews. Numerous times in six years of being a full-time student pastor, I have heard this phrase, “I desire to go deeper” or “I want to know more.” This is exciting and we must embrace it! These statements are telling us students desire to grow in their faith and knowledge of God. This is what we must wrestle with: are we as student ministry leaders giving students our best? Are we faithfully studying for our small group times? Are we ourselves as adults growing in our knowledge of God? Students want to experience Jesus. By teaching students theological concepts this will only help them truly experience Christ.

A great tool for teaching students theology is The Gospel Project for Students. This is a curriculum produced by LifeWay Christian Resources and is designed to “give teens the whole story of Scripture- the story of redemption through Jesus.” I highly recommend you check it out and use it in your student ministries.

Teaching Teenagers the Scriptures

One of my favorite aspects of ministry is teaching the Scriptures, especially to teenagers. I’m currently in my 6th year of experience in teaching students the Bible. I have loved every minute of it. I look back at some of my notes from the very beginning and they are rather comical. As a communicator I’m continuously growing. I have learned several things to do and things not to do. I’m still learning things to do and not to do. My hope and prayer is that this blog post will help those who find themselves teaching students the Bible on regular basis. Whether you are a student pastor who teaches on Wednesday nights or a small group leader preparing a Bible study lesson, I hope the following 7 ideas help. Side note: I use the phrase “talk” through out this blog post. This can refer to a sermon by a student pastor or a small group Bible study/Sunday school lesson given by a student ministry volunteer. 

1. Know your key text(s) really well.

  • Put your main passage of Scripture in context; in order to do this read the verses before and after your main passage.
  • Read your main passage and subtext(s) completely through at least 3 times before you communicate it.
  • If applicable, identify the key characters in your main passage and what they are going through or what God is teaching them. Draw applications from this.
  • Write down any questions or confusing parts that the passage of Scripture may raise with you. Then seek commentaries or other helps in identifying answers to these questions. Chances are if you as the communicator have questions so will the students you teach.

2. Create one big idea and build your entire talk around it.

  • Students have a hard time remembering “seven keys to…” or “four ideas about…”  However, if you create one big idea for your talk, students are far more likely to remember it.
  • Make your big idea short but deep/thought-provoking at the same time. Remember to reiterate your big idea several times in your talk.
  • Build your entire outline off of your big idea.

3. Have lots application but don’t make your entire talk application.

  • Too many people who teach students the Bible do this: they start off with reading a passage of Scripture and then they jump straight to what to do and not to do in life. I have found that, more times than not, these talks are very shallow in content and have a moral “do and don’t” feel to them.
  • With that being said, students do need tangible life lessons based off of Scripture to take with them.
  • Application will help students answer this question: “How do I live this passage of Scripture out in my everyday life?”

4. Use contemporary stories and illustrations. 

  • Students (and adults for that matter) are saturated with different worldviews, concepts, and messages from our world today. From the music they download, to the movies they watch, to the revolution of social media, the world’s “messages” surround them. Students need to know what the Bible says about these “ideas.”  
  • I’m not saying you have to listen to all the top 40 songs but by using contemporary illustrations this give students an easy avenue to connect with you.

5. When appropriate, give students resources to take with them. 

  • More times than not students will forget many things they hear. If you don’t believe me talk to a parent of a teenager.
  • Examples of resources: Outlines; notes with fill in the blanks; small cards with key applications or verses on it. These are examples of things I have used in past.
  • The point of these resources is to give students something to refer to later.
  • Don’t overkill these aspects but I do encourage you to use them.

6. Be authentic.

  • Students desperately need this. Students need loving, caring adults and leaders who will be real with them. They need to see communicators who have victories and struggles in their own life.
  • If students don’t read a person as authentic, there is a high possibility they will tune everything they are communicating out.

7. Point everything to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • The Gospel changes lives. Not human intelligence or philosophy, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • At some point in your talk identity how what your teaching points to the Gospel message.
  • Remember there is a great chance that every time you open the Scriptures with students, lost students are listening.

Six Imperatives for the Christ Following College Student

When a Christ follower enters the secular college campus there are so many philosophies, theories, and concepts they are bombarded with almost immediately. Sadly, most theories and philosophies in college don’t point to Jesus as Savior and Lord. So what advice would I give a Christ following freshmen entering the college campus? The following are six imperatives I would employ students to know, live out, and pursue…

1. Biblical Worldview: Following the TRUTH and being able to recognize false teaching. John 8:31-32

2. Biblical Identity: Who I am in Christ. Galatians 2:20

3. Authentic Community: Faithfully attending a local church in which you can connect, worship, mature, and fellowship. Acts 2:46-47

4. Serving Opportunities: The Christian life is meant to be lived out not just talked about. 1 Peter 4:10

5. Evangelistic Outreach: Sharing your faith story with others. Romans 10:1

6. Leadership Development: Learning and pursuing leadership principles for life, faith, and environment. Joshua 1:7

Five Indications of Effective Student Ministry

It’s a joy serving in student ministry on a weekly basis. Sure, with any ministry area, there are plenty of mountain tops and valleys but to see students who want to know God, experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, and fall in love with Jesus, is truly an honor. So what does effective student ministry look like? As I have been processing and experiencing student ministry “in the trenches” over the last 7 years I have come up with five indicators that could identify an effective student ministry. This is a list not the list but definitely elements that I feel must be evident, meaning they take place on a weekly basis, within the student ministry.

Teach the Word. 1 Corinthians 3:11 teaches that our foundation is Jesus Christ. Too many student ministries build their ministry on things such as a particular leader, huge events, or some other external aspect that we think will attract a bunch of people. I’m not cracking on well-known leaders or big events, I’m just simply saying that cannot be our foundation. Why? Because that foundation will eventually crumble. We must build our student ministries on Jesus Christ and His Word and nothing else. Therefore, we must diligently teach the Word of God to students. This can be fleshed out in a few different ways. Whether it’s the student pastor’s teaching during the student worship service or during Sunday school/small groups time, the Word of God must be taught faithfully. When the Word of God is taught faithfully students are moved to want to know this Jesus guy we keep teaching about.

Make disciples who make disciples. Possibly the best disciple makers in the student ministry should actually be the students themselves. In the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28, Jesus commands all believers to go out and make other disciples. Therefore the question needs to be asked… “How well is our student ministry making disciples?” Do we have older students who are living out their faith so the younger students can see this? Discipleship is most effective when it’s visible and life changing. Do we have student pastors, adult leaders, and parents who are pouring their time and energy into discipling students? As a side note, I’m a firm believer in small groups. Whether it’s called small groups, Sunday school, connect groups, or whatever, this type of environment gets students in a small group with their peers studying God’s Word. Discipleship is huge in student ministry!

Equip leaders. There are two areas within this equip leaders idea. First, students take ownership within the student ministry. Seeing students led out in different areas of the student ministry such as the praise and worship team, the serving teams, the small groups teams, and so on. Students need to know they have ownership within the student ministry. Second, effective student ministry cannot take place without the help of solid adult volunteers investing into the lives of students. Adults can serve in capacities such as Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, camp chaperon, host homes for events, and so on. There are multiple ways adults can serve in student ministry. For the student pastors who may be reading this article, my encouragement to you is this: use adults who are growing in their own faith and whom you can trust.

Authentic worship takes place. We teach all the time worship is a lifestyle and not just singing songs but is this evident in our student ministries? Do our students simply worship on Wednesday nights and on Sundays… or do they worship just as much outside of the four walls of the church? Experiencing the presence of God in corporate worship should always lead us to live differently. Students need to live out their worship to God through the way they treat others, build relationships, and act at home with their family. Too many so-called “Christians” worship on Sundays and Wednesdays and then act the exact opposite the other days of the week.

Serving others comes naturally. We can teach serving until we are blue in the face but until students serve, not out of a feeling of obligation but out of the overflow of their heart, then we can’t say serving is natural. Ways that student ministries can serve is assisting their local schools with needs they might have (trash pick up, painting, etc.), visiting local nursing homes, helping the elderly in their church do things such as yard work, and so on. Again, this must come naturally though and not feel like it is a forced thing. When students see a need and want to meet that need… then you see the church actually being the church to a hurting and lost world.

The Key…

The key to successful student ministry is relationships. Student ministry is very relational by nature, from student pastors building relationships with leaders and students, to small group leaders investing into the lives of students, to impacting parents. Top to bottom building authentic community within student ministry is key on the foundation of strong Biblical teaching.

Student Pastors and Seminary

I have been thinking about this whole issue of theological education for those working in student ministry. Is it necessary? Is it optional? For a long time (and some still do) churches would hire a young, energetic, adult to work with teenagers that was “good with kids.” The students loved this person, some of the adults in the church did not understand this person, and this person usually did not stay in their role at the church for much longer than a few years. Now, let me say this, there are some amazing student pastors out there that have never touched any formal theological education. I have personally met them. I have worked alongside them. In fact, I know of some student pastors out there, with no formal theological education, that build relationships better, communicate better, and deal with issues that come along better, than student pastors with a theological education. However, I do believe it is very important for student pastors to at least be attending or planning on attending seminary. I come to this conclusion for several reasons but first let me state this. Seminary is not the end all of the end all. It is so much more important to have a heart for Jesus and growing in your daily walk with Jesus than it is to be sitting in a seminary class. Now, seminary can greatly aid in this process but I have met too many seminary students who do not serve in the local church in any capacity. To that person I say… “really, are you kidding me?” It is also important to note here that there is no way that seminary can prepare you for everything you will encounter in real life ministry. If you are reading this article and you are feeling called to be a student pastor then my advice is simple… do both; serve in the church and attend seminary. With this brings practical application and formal theological training. Here are a few suggestions or ways that this can be accomplished… while in seminary, serve full-time or part-time in a church, be a student ministry intern at a church, or serve a small group leader in a student ministry. Currently, I’m doing this myself. I’ve been married almost five years, I work as a full-time student and college pastor, and I take seminary classes every semester. It can be hard at times to do balance all this at the same time but it is doable, trust me. The key is time management, something that I have definitely not mastered yet. With all this being said here are a few reasons why I believe theological education is important for the student pastor.

1. Teenagers need a leader that is a learner as well. It has often been said a leader is a reader. A growing leader is constantly going to want to be learning new ideas and concepts. Now, there is the train of thought that says… “do I really need seminary to do this, can’t I just read books on my own?” To this I say it is also important, for a season, for the leader to be the student as well. I have gained a lot of valuable knowledge from professors pouring knowledge into me. Professors that were former/current student pastors themselves and could absolutely relate to the question I was asking or situation I was dealing with. Why? Because they are seasoned veterans and have been there and done that. Teenagers desperately need a leader that is constantly increasing in their knowledge.

2. Teenagers ask tough questions about theological concepts. I have been asked questions before, by middle school and high school students, that had I not had some sort of formal theological education, I would not have been able to answer it. Doctrine and theology can be hard for the pastor/ministry leader to grasp but we need to know these things. To many people are under the mindset that students can’t handle deeper biblical lessons or talks. Watered-down theology will not help a student grow to be the disciple of Jesus that they can be. 

3. Churches and supervising pastors do care. Let me start off by saying this is not always the case. One of the churches I previously served in I was told, “Do seminary if you want to, don’t do seminary if you don’t want to, it does not matter to us.” However, I have found more pastors, other ministry leaders, and churches do think it is important that their staff have formal theological training. I’m not saying you can’t get hired without it I’m just simply saying it’s important. After all what is seminary? It’s a training ground. Why would you not want to go get formal training in the area God has called you to. Countless pastors have told me how important it is to have my education. It will make more churches desire for you to be a part of their team, it will grow your network, and you will greatly benefit from the experience as a whole.

Let me end by saying this. It is also important for the student pastor or any ministry leader for that matter to be studying and know the current culture as well. Often seminary students can get in that “seminary bubble” and easily lose sight of this. They will know theological concepts back and forward but then have no idea how to relate them to a struggling teenager or child. To help myself with this I read movie reviews (or go see the movie if it is appropriate) of the best-selling movies, I read up on what is happening in the culture as much as possible, I stay connected to social media, and I listen to songs on the Top 40 charts, just to name some of the things I do.

All in all, I do believe formal theological education is important. It’s not the cheapest thing and it’s not the easy route to take, but at the end of the day I believe it is totally worth it.