Missional Culture in Student Ministry

I’m Sam, and I’m the student pastor at Wright Baptist Church in Fort Walton Beach, FL. I want to talk about why missions matters, how we landed on our current missions model, and what we do to create a missional culture throughout the rest of the year.

As a student pastor, one of my goals has always been to do student ministry in a way that makes sense in the context of the global church. That’s a tall order, and I don’t claim to have done it perfectly. I don’t even claim to have done it well, but it has always been a goal. This goal has shaped how we do events, plan trips, and conduct our weekly programs, and missions is integral. The understanding of missions, the work of missions, and the experience of missions are all part and parcel to doing ministry in the context of the global church.

The understanding of missions, the work of missions, and the experience of missions are all part and parcel to doing ministry in the context of the global church.”

In other words, missions matters. If we want to form God’s heart in our students for the nations, for this nation, and for our communities, then we must be missional. We must introduce our students to the nations, to our nation, and to our communities. We must open our students’ eyes to the local and global mission of God.

I think we have strayed from this mindset, in many ways, because we have opted to operate from the mindset of a voting majority rather than a more missional, grass-roots minority. And this has shown in the way we typically experience and evaluate missions in student ministry. More often than not, we take short trips that are focused on transactions, not relationships. What did we build? What did we paint? How many got “saved?” But behind every one of those questions is a “who,” and that person is largely ignored in our metric for evaluating our trip.

We must return, then, in thought and action, to a way of life that is embedded in missions. Missions is where we cultivate our understanding of God’s redemptive work across the globe. Missions is where we live into our new identity in Christ. Missions is where we learn that Jesus satisfies. Not our birthright, not our accomplishments, but Christ alone.

“Missions is where we cultivate our understanding of God’s redemptive work across the globe.

So this is where I landed in terms of how to get my students in on the story of God’s redemptive work around the world. Every four years we have four trips. Two are done in our own community. One is done Nationally, and we partner with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) for this trip. And the last is done Internationally, and for this one we partner with the International Mission Board (IMB).

The goal of each of these trips is to love people well and to leave a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God. This looks differently in each scenario. For our local trips, it is easier to use a week to let people know where we are (and I mean the physical location of our church), and to say that we love our community. We have all year to prove it, and we get to use a strategic week in making our presence known. This summer, that looks like partnering with a local high school, doing a bunch of weeding and re-mulching for them, and loving on the faculty. That’s what they told us they need, so we’ll do it. And then when school starts back up, we’ll send several of our students back to the same school we worked on.

It’s harder to plan something for lasting impact at the National and International levels. The task becomes much more daunting when the goal is to have a lasting impact for the kingdom in a week. We’ve tackled that issue by creating strategic partnerships. Last summer we partnered with a NAMB church plant in South Florida, and we did whatever they needed us to do. Our goal was not to go accomplish something, but to be a resource for a partner who would stay behind and have a lasting impact. In fact, our prayer for ourselves that week became, “Let us be spent for the sake of the gospel in South Florida, leave, and be forgotten.”

We serve locally when we stay, and we partner locally when we go. The geography of grace is always local. God always meets us where we are.

The geography of grace is always local. God always meets us where we are.

This is all fine and good, but at the end of the day, we’re still looking at one week out of the year. One week is not what it takes to create a culture where missions is valued. One training, one emphasis, one anything, for that matter, is not enough to sustain a culture that flows out of missions.

When i say “missions,” I’m not talking about the strategies of mission and vision, I mean the intentional crossing of borders to share the good news of Christ. These borders could be physical, political, or social. Missions, in this sense, would include the week-long trip to Mexico, but it would also include sitting down at the lunch table with someone far from Jesus. This is our heart for our students, right? To be the ministers on their campuses, in their homes, and at their jobs? We don’t create this kind of missional culture by being superstar youth workers who equip our students with nothing more than the means to invite someone to church. We create this culture by faithfully leading students in the faith and equipping them to engage culture.

Here are some practical ways that we have started doing this in our student ministry.

1. We pray for the persecuted church around the world.

We use “The World Watch List,” put out by Open Doors USA, and it has information about the 50 most hostile countries toward Christianity. The list includes information about the persecuted church as well as information on how to best pray with persecuted believers. We need to be informed on the state of the global church. We also need to see the church suffering for Jesus so as to be made bold ourselves. Paul’s writes, “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14).

2. We emphasize gospel conversation.

What I mean by this is we encourage our students to talk about Jesus. We model gospel conversations for our students as we interact. We frame life in terms of discipleship. What we do not do is teach a program or a rubric on how to effectively evangelize. I don’t mean to sound overly critical of these methods, but we avoid presentation methods because we aim for a more relational approach. We don’t want students to get to the end of a presentation and then have no inroad for a continued relationship.

3. We study Scripture through a Missional Lense

This means we look at God’s Word with the aim to see who God is, what story He is telling, and from there derive how He calls us to live. When we do this, week in and week out, we see this repeated rhythm that God is always the rescuer, He is always the one who comes to save, He is always the missionary. And so we commission our students each week to live on mission.

I don’t offer these strategies with any kind of guarantee, nor as any kind of prescription. I offer them, hopefully and prayerfully, to stir up in your sanctified imagination a way to answer this question: How are we creating a culture in which missions is valued? Now it is your turn to do the work of a dreamer, of a strategist, and as a leader of students. Let us know what you come up with!

Are you about to lead your students on a mission trip or go on a mission trip yourself? Check out our free eBook “Don’t Waste Your Mission Trip.” This is a great pre-trip devotion to help your students start thinking rightly about short-term missions.

Sam Hays

Sam is the Student Pastor at Wright Baptist Church in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He loves C.S. Lewis and studied at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He and his wife have a wonderful daughter and another baby due in July.

Contact Sam.

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