I’m no expert by any means on being a student minister, but as I often encounter people who tell me they want to one day become a student minister, I thought I would offer some advice on what that journey looks like. If someone was to prepare for a career in student ministry (or any form of ministry) here’s what I would suggest:
1. Consider seminary. Seminary was invaluable to me as I began to understand the Bible and theology. I had a great time and grew as a learner and a follower of Christ. The seminary environment fundamentally shaped me and my approach to ministry. I don’t, however, think that seminary is absolutely essential to be a minister. I have many ministry friends who did not attend seminary, but I will tell you that those who did not attend seminary and are successful have developed a deep commitment to learning and reading. If seminary does not work for you, there are so many books, blogs, and training conferences that will exponentially increase your ability to minister.
2. Start working in ministry as soon as possible. In the church world, experience is key. Even if you have to start as a volunteer, connect to a ministry and begin working as hard as possible. Learn as you go and strive for a variety of tasks that will let you learn what you are good at and what you need to grow in. In my own opinion, finding a large church that has a healthy program is the direction you should go. Some people start out at smaller churches where ministry has been a struggle and the new guy thinks he can fix things, but often what happens is that the new guy gets burned out or discouraged before they learn what in the world they are doing. Student ministry is one of those weird occupations where people with the least amount of experience get put into the hardest jobs. Try to take the hard jobs when you know what you are doing. Another reason to start at a larger church is that it gives you more options when it comes to future job searches. The reality is that churches prefer to hire people from larger churches.
3. Consider developing a secondary skill. If you have the time and ability, consider developing a secondary skill such as website development, graphic design, worship leading, or video editing. In my opinion, these things will not necessarily make you a better minister, but they will make it more likely that you will get hired. I don’t want to sound cynical, but many churches are seeking value-added student ministers. They want you to disciple students and also be able to make video announcements for worship or help edit the website.
4. Find a mentor and a network. We all need coached up and encouraged. Tiger Woods has a swing coach. LeBron James is quick to credit all of his coaches. You will need a mentor and other ministers who can encourage you and give you advice (and you will need advice). Find someone who has been successful in ministry for a while. Find other ministers who are just starting out and build some camaraderie with them as you go on this ministry journey together. One of the most impactful things for me has been the relationships I have with other ministers in my area.
5. Never forget that ministry is about serving God. It’s not about building a career or a platform. It is about serving God and glorifying God in all that you do. It’s an honor to serve God by discipling students, and the only way that you will succeed in this endeavor is if you maintain your relationship with God. You will minister out of the overflow of your relationship with God so make that relationship a priority.