Gospel Reflections on My First Three Years as Student Pastor

I love Swift Creek Baptist Church, and I love being the Student Pastor here. I love the gospel. I have now been serving here for three years. The Lord has been so good. Here are eight gospel reflections on what I have learned along the way.   

1. Gospel Remedy. Teenagers wrestle with real-life sin and brokenness. Lust. Backstabbing. Gossip. Broken hearts. Broken homes. Anger. Loneliness. Foul language. What teenagers need––what everyone needs––more than anything else is the gospel of grace. We must not sugarcoat sin. We don’t speak in vague generalities. Sin must be addressed plainly and biblically. Much more, what we must never do is give teens a list of behaviors they need to change and then send them home. Rules will not save them. Christ will. His blood is the remedy to their daily struggle with sin. The cross is the remedy to all their brokenness. Teenagers must hear that their sin leads to death. But Christ has covered their sin. This allows them to learn the sweetness of the gospel each week.

2. Gospel Proclamation. The most important thing I can do every week as a student pastor is to proclaim the gospel (1 Cor 2:2). I desire to never shortcut my time preparing Wednesday night sermons each week in order to get the “more important stuff.” There is nothing more important! Hearing the gospel proclaimed each week is the central vehicle by which God’s people are transformed into the image of Christ. (2 Cor 3:18, 4:4-6). That is why every Wednesday in the Refuge, in every sermon from every passage, the life, death, resurrection of Christ is being proclaimed to people ages 11-18. The gospel is the only thing that can save and transform. It is still saving our students. Student Pastors must give themselves to being the most faithful gospel-preaching expositor of God’s Word they can possibly be­­––for the glory of God! Student pastors are still pastors. God’s calling to be “devoted to the ministry of the Word” is for us too (Acts 6:4) 

3. Gospel Devotion. Without sitting alone with Christ every day in his word, I would not be able to do anything good in student ministry. A preacher who died long ago named, Robert Murray McCheyne, said, “What my people need from me more than anything else is my personal holiness.” While I still stumble as a sinner in need of the same grace I preach to our students, I take McCheyne’s wisdom to heart. I long to sit with Christ daily, asking him to show me his glory. To show me the gospel. Because apart from him I can do nothing (John 15:5).

4.     Gospel Engagement. Engaging in serving the church and in the mission of God only comes when properly motivated by the gospel. Service that pleases God won’t come when I beg the students to serve hoping to guilt them into it. It will come the reality of true greatness is seen—that Christ came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). We must let the gospel do the work on their hearts to mobilize them for the mission.  

5. Gospel Prayer.  I didn’t pray for parents and students by name like I should have been when I started out in ministry; however, Christ convicted me for this sin. In addition to his calling to be devoted to the ministry of the Word, I am to be devoted to prayer (Acts 6:4).  How will Christ bring transformation in the lives of students and parents if I am not praying for them by name with consistency? When I don’t pray for those I shepherd, I am basically saying to God, “I got this.” Lord, heal my sinful heart! The reality is, apart from Christ I can do nothing. Christ convicted me to believe him when he said, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).  I believe him. I have been filled with the joy of praying through my roster of parents and students by name. I pray that God gives the growth.

6. Gospel Parents. If I am not seeking to engage parents, then I am wasting my time as a student pastor. I do not do this perfectly, but I long to communicate with parents so that they can be equipped with gospel resources to know how to converse with their teens as they sit down for dinner, or ride to practice, or when the awkward moments come. I am not the primary disciple maker in the life of a teenager, parents are (Dt 6:4-9). I am praying that I am a helpful teammate, encourager, and equipper for parents. I loved starting Encourage and Equip last semester for this reason. Can’t wait for our next meeting in the Fall. I don’t just want you to be good parents. I want you to be gospel-centered parents.

7. Gospel Joy. Our student ministry is not built around games or entertainment. If you were to be a fly on the wall on a Wednesday night or Sunday morning, you won’t find us eating baby food or bobbing for snickers bars in a kiddie pool. You will find a group of students with Bibles open, pen in hand, standing around the stage singing to Jesus, or circled up in prayer. You will find us on Sunday morning laughing about a stupid question to wake us up, but then transition to meditating on theological reality like “How does the Holy Spirit help us?” All of this is intentional. The central reality of our student ministry right now and always is “Jesus is Better.” The eternal joy that comes from Christ is better than the cheap thrill of entertainment and games. I’m not anti-games or anti-fun. I like games. We set aside certain times for games. But they don’t hold a candle to the joy of worshipping Christ. The Bible never instructs me to entertain teenagers. But it does command me to disciple them. So, I want give myself to what I know I should be doing. The reality is, games won’t save your teen. Jesus will. Nothing else matters.

8. Gospel Edification. I would be nothing without the wisdom, friendship, and accountability of my Christ-centered brothers on this staff and in this church. I’m so thankful for the gospel wisdom of the fellow pastors here, redirecting me when I need to make hard decisions, humbling me when I propose a dumb idea, correcting me when I fail, and encouraging me to press on. It’s a privilege serving with them. Also, the accountability and edification of my brothers who I meet with every Friday morning. We sit around with coffee and our Bibles and spur each other on to love Christ more. I live for Friday morning. Their gospel partnership keeps me from sin and helps me press on in the ministry with gladness. May we (all believers) not neglect meeting together to stir one another up to love and good works in Christ (Heb 10:24-25).

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