I recently sat down one on one with a handful of pastors, serving in various ministry contexts, to have the proverbial kitchen sink thrown at me when it comes to student ministry. What is it? What works, and what doesn’t? What do I need to know? What would they do with what they know now? I was preparing to step into my first full-time Student Pastor position, and wanted to be prepared (as much as one can be) for entering that role. I found that a lot of them said the same things, ironically enough. And as a learner, naturally, I asked each of them to share any resources they found helpful.
“As You Go, by Alvin Reid,” most of them told me.
Alvin Reid was a familiar name. He’s done a lot of speaking on evangelism and I know he’s written various books, and a professor at Southeastern Seminary as well. But I hadn’t realized that Reid was one of the pioneering visionaries for a new kind of student ministry.
Too many youth functions, for too long, have been built on attractional, superficial, pragmatic methods. There are still plenty of youth ministries (and entire churches) that function this way, but slowly, pastors with boots on the ground are realizing the truth: it just doesn’t work in the long run. The before-service giveaways, the rocking band and lights, and theologically unchallenging preaching has led to youth ministries everywhere standing a mile wide and an inch deep, and their legacy has only fed the beast of reproducing attractional churches filled with consumerist Christians.
Reid’s idea of youth ministry stands in stark contrast to the norm:
“I believe student ministry needs reformation, not annihilation. I also believe the system currently in operation in many churches—more pizza parties than theological passion and more games than gospel—must be changed. The system is broken, and nothing less than a gospel infusion and cultural shift in the local church and in parachurch student ministries is needed…Student ministry should be about turning Millennials into missionaries, not helping church kids hang in there and have a good time.” (26-27)
Reid’s missional model for student ministry is extensive. In fact, each chapter expands upon various streams of missional student ministry (“missional movement,” “missional lens,” “missional voice,” etc.). But this book is not just conceptual and visionary, remaining at the 30,000-ft level. Reid firmly believes that there is a balance of orthodoxy, orthopathy, and orthopraxy that must be present in our disciple-making of students (see page 95), and supports his argument in how he’s written the book itself. There is a lot of help for the pastor trying to develop vision and think conceptually, but there’s also plenty of ground-level tips for implementing the missional mindset within the ministry. For example, Reid includes a laundry list of ways we can implement becoming missional within the family (pages 153-159).
What I love most about Reid’s work on student ministry in As You Go is his commitment to seeing students as part of the church today, and not tomorrow. Oftentimes we call students the future of the church, which, while I understand the premise, can imply a sort of “waiting period” that needs to happen before we fully allow students to join the missional movement. But I, like Reid, believe that God wants students to be a pivotal part of making disciples within the world and building the Church.
As You Go is not theologically shallow or propping itself upon cheap methods for creating a movement. Instead, it is a deep and rich re-evaluation of how we can do ministry better, and not so we can pat ourselves on the back, but that we might better fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples. This is must-read material for any youth pastor, and any pastor implementing student ministries into his church’s regular ministry programming. I’m so grateful to have this gospel-centered encouragement from a distinguished and experienced pastor and teacher, guiding pastors of students everywhere on the ins and outs of building and reclaiming a missional student ministry.