By December 12, 2014Culture, Faith


No one I know has enough of it and everyone I know would do just about anything to have more of it. It is one of the biggest challenges I face everyday in student ministry.
The time I have with my students seems to shrink every year. Family schedules are packed full of school, sports, and community events competing for their attention; and church is just one of many activities they have to squeeze into their busy week. This is complicated even more by the fact that most pastors don’t stay at a church long enough to see a “class” move all the way through high school to graduation. If we are not intentional and strategic with the time that we have, our programs will begin to look more like appointments and less like movements.

Here are four strategies I have learned to maximize the little time I have with my students.

Identify the amount of time.

One of the best disciplines I have learned is to plan out as much of my year in advance as possible. I use a laminated wall calendar taped to the back of my office door; I can look and see every month, week and day of the year. My calendar allows me to be intentional about the time I have with my students. Our church and community have reoccurring rhythms each year, which make it helpful to plan. In fact, 2015 is already hanging on my door with marked off holidays, exam weeks, school events and special church events. I know I have 37 weekends with my students next year.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” Psalm 90:12.

There is wisdom in identifying the time we have, it’s difficult at first but It has allowed me to maximize the time I have each year.

Distinguish between what’s important and what’s most important.

After I identify the days that I have with my students, I plan out what I want to spend our time together doing. Knowing I have limited opportunities has forced me to wrestle with what’s important vs. what’s most important! This has not been an easy process and does not happen over night. I’ve realized prior to choosing curriculum, I must answer some important questions. There is a temptation to try and answer these questions alone, I would encourage you to invite a team of people you trust into the process of wrestling through these questions.

  • Knowing time is limited, what are the most important topics this year: context is extremely important. Make sure to see what’s going on in your students’ lives, schools, and community.
  • Do you know someone with “prophetic” giftings who can help you discern what your community needs?
  • Do you know someone with “apostolic” gifts, a visionary or pioneer who can help you dream about what’s next or what could be?
  • Is your time together “balanced?” Are you experiencing Up, In & Out?
  • Who do you know that has “pastoral” gifts who can help you discern strengths and weaknesses of your ministry?
  • What do you need to experience this year to help you accomplish your vision & mission?

A very practical tool we have used to help answer some of these questions is the 5 V’s tool, it has helped our student ministry team begin to create a clear mission and vision, along with resources to identify what our “win” is.

Partner with Parents. Shift the spiritual center away from church back toward home.

Time is a limited resource for everyone. There are days when I look at my calendar and think, how am I going to say everything there is to say with so few opportunities? Throughout the years at many churches, the student pastor has been identified as the primary spiritual teacher in students’ lives. As families and cultures have added more opportunities and commitments for students to be involved in, there has become less time for church, which means less time to teach, lead, inspire and encourage the students. I felt I needed more time and opportunity. Then I realized the importance and power of partnering with parents. The hard part is that this doesn’t happen in newsletters, emails, text messages or Facebook posts. If we are going to partner with parents, we need to personally know them: know their stories, needs, fears, hopes and dreams for their children and families.

I used to have parent meetings; now I have parent meals.
I used to tell them information; now I have started listening.

Statistics are consistently clear; there is no other influence that will have a greater impact on a kid’s faith than their parents.

“Mothers and fathers who practice what they preach and preach what they practice are far and away the major influence related to adolescents keeping the faith into their 20s, according to new findings from a landmark study of youth and religion.” (article)

Once we’ve established a relationship, we need to find effective ways to equip them with tools and language to make disciples in their homes. Although their time is limited as well, they do have more hours each year with their children and in reality, long after we have moved on to another church or position, our students’ parents will still be there.

Deuteronomy chapter six provided important insight and guidance for me as I learned the importance of “partnering with parents”.

Disciple leaders who can disciple others.

If parents spiritual influence is the primary factor for students keeping their faith, I believe Student Ministry Leaders are second. We all know that we can only effectively disciple a few. I made the tough decision a long time ago that my few were going to be adult leaders. This was difficult because I didn’t decide to be a student pastor because I love adults. But I realized that if I really love my students, I needed to put other adults in their lives. But with this great idea came the reality that the more students I had, the more leaders I needed. In this constant yearly cycle, I found myself recruiting and training leaders, but not discipling them. One of the challenges I am facing right now is how to disciple leaders who can disciple leaders who can disciple leaders. My few have gotten even smaller in the last year as I have intentionally invested in a handful of my leaders. I have made this change because I believe multiplication is greater than addition. Instead of having 30 leaders that can do what I say, I am discipling eight leaders who can do what I do! Those eight will disciple the other twenty-four leaders and teach them how to do what they can do. Because I made the hard decision to spend my limited time with a few leaders, we now have the ability to reach hundreds of students and unlimited potential in the future.

Some questions for you to think about:

  • Do you have a team or are you doing ministry alone?
  • Are you training leaders to do what you say or are you making disciples that can do what you do?
  • What would happen in your ministry if a year from now you had 8 disciples who could make 8 disciples who could make 8 disciples?

Even though time is on short supply and it seems to be rapidly decreasing every day, if we can identify the available time we have with our students, what we want them to know while they are with us then we can leverage our influence with their parents, the lasting relationships in their lives, and disciple leaders who can disciple leaders. We will have multiplied our time and our influence in our ministries.



This post comes from Dan McSwain. Dan is a Student Minister in Ohio creating rhythms of discipleship and mission in his church. 


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