4 Lessons Learned From Student Ministry in an Urban Context
Growing up, I didn’t know what “Youth Group” was. When I started as a youth minister, I had no idea on how student ministry should operate—let alone in an urban context. I loved Jesus and I had ambition, but that wasn’t enough. Here is what I’ve learned so far.
1) Principles and Methods
The Bible gives us a lot of direction. We call these principles and Scripture is filled with them. For example, the Bible commands us to love one another (1 John 3:11), care for widows and orphans (James 1:27), and have male leadership (1 Tim 3). Principles don’t change. Methods, however, are flexible and can differ from church to church. With sound doctrine, we have freedom to contextualize and speak the language of the students we minister to. Distinguishing between principles and methods is important because, though we believe the same things, student ministries can look vastly different.
2) The Home
The home should be a safe place for a student. They should not only find rest for their body, food for their stomach, but it should be the place where they first meet God through people who love and accept them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. God desires to save the whole household, no matter what the home looks like for your students. Try to build a relationship with the family, meet any needs you can, and earn their trust. Student ministry can’t just be about students; it has to be about the family as well. The Gospel applies to the whole family. As students and their families are saved, discipleship can begin. Discipleship in the home is valuable and crucial for students.
3) Have Hope
You may not always be able to have hope in your students, but you can have hope for them. Kids in the hood are made in the image and likeness of God. But they are also sinners, no more or no less than anyone else. Therefore, they are in just as much danger living without Jesus as any anyone else (Romans 3:23). We must extend ourselves as much as possible to reach as many as possible (Romans 9:11). For those Jesus has called, there is nothing they have done to earn it (Romans 9:15). They cannot resist Jesus’ call to follow (John 6:37). And once they commit their lives to him, they are his for eternity (1 Cor. 10:13).
4) Clear Gospel
Above all, the Gospel must be clear. You must be able to apply it both broadly and specifically. Saying “Jesus died on the cross for your sins” although correct, is not enough. We need to start where the Bible starts. That means when we present the good news of what Jesus has done, we have to start with the fact we weren’t made to live the way we do now. Humans started out as perfect and good, but we chose to disobey God. By doing so, we’ve become unable to achieve our original purpose, to operate the way we were meant, and be with him. Students need to know how they are now is not what they were made to be. They need to know that, through Jesus, their relationship with God can be restored and made right. Don’t tiptoe around the Gospel; be clear and honest about it. Don’t offer cheap grace. If a student wants to become a Christian, communicate what grace cost God: his Son. But, remind them God did not see that as too high of a cost. It was worth it to him.