The Missional Shift in Student Ministry

Alvin Reid is a great partner and friend of GCD. This last week he released his new book, As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students. In this great read, Alvin hopes to help students and leaders to have their entire lives defined by the mission. This is a much needed resource for the church in America and we are happy to share this excerpt of As You Go with our readers. ---

On the east coast of North Carolina a windy spot named Kitty Hawk faces the Atlantic Ocean. On that site over one hundred years ago two brothers named Orville and Wilbur Wright made a discovery that has radically changed my life and most likely yours as well. On a cold December day in 1903, these brothers tested what became the first fixed-wing flying machine in history. Their efforts marked the tipping point of a movement leading to global air travel, which has become a staple of culture now. A century later, in Atlanta alone, numbers equivalent to a small city pass through a single airport, traveling literally all over the world in a matter of hours.

Airplanes have not changed travel – the movement of people from one place to another -- in its essence. But the means and speed of travel have changed dramatically.

We have an unchanging Word from God (the Bible) and a unique message (the gospel), but the world in which we teach and live and share the truth of a relationship with God has changed significantly in recent years. Today, we have the largest number of youth ever in history, and by far the most unreached.

From the earliest days of the church in Acts until now, the Great Commission has not changed in its essence. But the approach to the missionary enterprise of taking the gospel to the world has changed dramatically. Peter and Paul had ink to pen their writings, but no blogs or Twitter feeds. The United States has become the fourth-largest mission field in the world. This means a fundamental shift must take place: Student ministers must recognize more students today are lost without Christ than ever in history, and the “market share” of students active in church is shrinking. In other words, student ministry needs a revolution. We live in a time when much is at stake and much is changing, as revolutionary as the Renaissance and Reformation, a time when the stakes will not allow status quo Christianity to continue unchallenged, if any season ever did. Where do we begin if we hope to see a movement of God create a missional revolution among students?

1. God.

We need a new vision of God: His vastness, His involvement in all things, His love and His justice. If your students have a lot better grasp of you as the student pastor than God -- who sustains the world by the word of His power -- you have a problem. If your students understand the latest stats on sexuality in America more than they know the attributes of God and how He is King over all of life, you have a serious problem. We need student pastors and who are better at theology than at new ideas. Years ago the founders of one student ministry said it is a sin to make Christianity boring. Agreed. And it is a greater sin to make Christianity silly, which is what has happened far too often. We must exalt a great God and give focus to His Word.

2. The  gospel. 

A movement of gospel recovery is happening today. Read Gospel by J. D. Greear or The Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson. Or better, read Romans or John. We have shrink-wrapped the gospel, paring it down to the most bare of propositions. We must recover the great drama of redemption in Scripture, and see the gospel reflected in culture from movie plotlines to the wonder of creation. The one thing that is constantly newsworthy in your ministry is not an Ipad giveaway. It is Jesus. We need a radical, Christocentric transformation, understanding the gospel is for salvation and sanctification, for saved and unsaved alike. Jesus is the answer to all of life—not the superficial, subcultural Jesus, but the Jesus who cares for the broken and rebukes the self-righteous: the children-loving, disciple-calling, leper-healing, Pharisee-rebuking, humbly born, and ultimately reigning Lord Jesus.

3. The goal

Every ministry exists to glorify God. The goal of student ministry is to glorify God by developing disciples who learn both to see the world as missionaries and live as missionaries—to live focused on the mission of God. This means focusing less on discipleship aimed toward the lowest common denominator, which is a failed paradigm. It means you score success in long-term discipleship, equipping students for a life of service to Christ. It means helping students grow and develop their own plan for gospel impact now.

4. The gathering.

Connect to the whole church, across generations. Today’s teens are not only the most numerous; they are also the most fatherless. We must connect students to the larger church and not function as a parachurch ministry within a church building. We need a Titus 2 revolution where older men teach younger guys and older women teach younger ladies. We have spent so much time on the imperative that I fear we have lost the indicative, the “why” of all we do with, for, and through students. Once a person meets Christ he or she goes on a journey to further understand the message of God and live out the mission of God, to build a gospel-centered life with a missional posture toward everything: career, family, church, economics, fitness, morality — everything. Gabe Lyons in The Next Christians observes via research what I see consistently in my frequent interactions with leaders. Leaders seek a “new way forward;” they “want to be a force for restoration in a broken world even as we proclaim the Christian Gospel.” I, and others, call this way forward missional. Being missional means to think like a missionary, and missionaries travel: geographically to far lands, or sometimes they simply take a journey into their own communities to share Christ more effectively and intentionally. Geography does not define a missionary; the mission does.

Continue reading As You Go.


Alvin L. Reid is husband to Michelle and father to Josh and Hannah. He is a professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as a popular speaker and author. He has written numerous books on student ministry, evangelism, missional Christianity, and spiritual awakenings.  Follow on twitter: @AlvinReid.


Related Resources 

Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson 

How to Disciple Urban Youth by Eliot Velasquez

Replacing the Center of Youth Ministry by Josh Cousineau