In my opinion, these are the most important things necessary to lead and/or be a part of a student ministry:
1). Be True to Who You Are.
I once heard that preaching is “truth through personality” and I would apply the same thing to any student leader. No student ministry culture is going to look the same because it will be structured based on the gifts and passions of its leader…and that’s great! At the Q Ideas conference this year, Rachel Held Evans said: “Millennials have been advertised to their entire lives. Everyone is trying to sell us something. So we have very highly sensitive BS meters.” I think the whole idea of a pastor or leader needing to ‘play a part’ or look better than reality is really harmful to a student learning how to own their faith. And if they get any kind of scent that someone isn’t being authentic, their trust and desire to relationally connect drops way down. So just be yourself. I’m convinced that it’s the most powerful form of discipleship.
2). Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously.
I truly believe fun needs to be a core value of any student ministry. So even though you might be in a position of authority, you’ve got to be okay with looking stupid for the sake of fun or connecting with students. Part of the reason we love people like Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig, Steve Carell, or Tina Fey is because they’re willing to look dumb for the sake of humor and entertainment. And ironically, by doing so, we respond by taking them more seriously through our money, time, and attention! Plus I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll became way cooler in the eyes of a student by trying (and failing) to break dance or eating a chocolate-covered bug than you will by showing them your diploma or walking through the Levitical Law (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
3). Take Students Very Seriously.
It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when adults consciously or subconsciously view students like someone who needs to wait ’til they’re older before they’ll take them seriously. I get that they are immature and unexperienced in some aspects of everyday life, but when it comes to a student ministry, I believe students can and should be treated like men and women who are more than capable of owning their faith, relationships, and choices, and who God takes very seriously. The Bible is full of young people who God chose to do some pretty ridiculously awesome things through (David, Samuel, Esther, Timothy, the disciples, etc.). And according to 1 Timothy 4:12, not only are young people not to be looked down on, but they might actually be the ones God uses to teach the older people who think they know what they’re doing. I think the bar needs to be raised for students. Yes, they need grace and mercy and love, but I also believe they’re ready and desiring to be challenged. Whether it’s a 6th grade boy or a 12th grade girl (about a 45-year maturity gap), my philosophy is to have a high standard for teaching, worship, community, and (of course) fun. Scripture can be taught in a relevant way but that doesn’t mean it needs to be dumbed down in any way.