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3 Reasons Why I (Still) Serve in Student Ministry

Photo of Emily AndrewsEmily Andrews | Bio

Emily Andrews

Emily Andrews is a staff writer and editor at Prison Fellowship, as well as a freelancer with topic knowledge on crime and incarceration in America. Emily is a graduate of the University of Virginia and MFA candidate at George Mason University. She lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Kids these days. In my four-ish years of serving in student ministry, I’ve learned it’s not for the faint of heart. I’ve wanted to quit. I’ve felt like a failure.

So, here’s why I’m convinced you should try it.

#1 – Because It’s Hard.

I was fresh out of college when I began volunteering with students, not far removed from high school myself. But I didn’t stay because I related particularly well to 15- and 16-year-olds. They already use slang I have to google. I’m not even sure we like much of the same music.

To no one’s surprise, working with students is a challenge. Building relationships, planning small-group lessons, fielding tough questions—it takes time and energy. And church groups, of any age bracket, aren’t immune to cliques and sour attitudes. You question what you’re doing. Is it worth it? Is it working?

I’m challenged by the example of King David, who said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

Sometimes worship calls for sacrifice. Sometimes serving doesn’t feel good. But God is faithful and He honors obedience. He’s working behind the scenes regardless of how we feel. We may not see the fruit right away, but He is planting seeds.

#2 – Because It Will Grow You.

Serving students has a way of exposing some of the uglier things—what needs to be pruned from your character, or uprooted altogether, as we continue to grow with Christ. This ministry is like a constant mirror in my face, showing me how much I need His patience and wisdom.

In the most humbling way, student ministry reminds me that I can’t do much of anything on my own—anything good, anyway. Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” His grace abounds in the growing pains.

And we aren’t alone in that growth. There’s a richness to being surrounded by leaders of all ages and stages of life. Student ministry leaders, as a team, have an opportunity to keep each other accountable. My team is always challenging each other, always asking how we can pray for each other. Plus, it’s hard to plan a lesson without reading the Bible passage a few times and giving it a fair amount of prayer and thought. Many times, when I’ve presented a lesson, I’ve needed the message spoken to my heart as much as the kids did.

#3 – Because They Need You—And So Do Their Parents.

To serve students well, I don’t dig down deep and muster up the best version of myself. I need only look up, to Christ. It kind of takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? Some people might be specially equipped for this in ways that I’m not naturally.

But I don’t have to be some special brand of youth-group-person to succeed. Thank God, His power is perfect in my weakness.

Yes, I might need an extra nap. But I’ve learned that my comfort is not worth more than someone else’s chance to take next steps with Christ. Someone once said, “We’re all just walking each other home,” after all.

Not long ago, I got a call from a ninth grader in my small group. (A phone call, in place of a text, provokes some concern when the sender is a teen.) The student told me she’d finally been seeing a counselor. Weeks prior, she revealed some deep struggles to me and, thankfully, to her mom since they have a good relationship. But I wasn’t professional help.

On the phone, she told me something the counselor recommended she try: Make a list of people she trusted to call if she was ever in a dark place—“Like, really dark,” she said, “or if I feel like I don’t want to live anymore.”

There were three people on her list. She was calling just to say I was one of them.

She reassured me that this wasn’t “one of those times,” but I felt the weight of her call. Her mom later thanked me for the indelible mark I didn’t even know I’d made in this girl’s life. The truth sank in:

Student ministry is more than barbecues and bonfires and minute-to-win-it group games on Sunday nights.

High schoolers tend to be dumbfounded that any adult would invest in their lives without getting paid. Student ministry volunteers aren’t just there to explain a Bible verse once a week. We’re cheering kids on. We’re partnering with parents. We’ll stumble a bit, but we’ll learn plenty along the way.