A few months ago during a staff meeting our pastor remarked that “primarily, ministry is about people, about relationships, and about making connection with them.” Those words stuck because the last 5 years of my journey have only reinforced that. As student ministers we can often get lost in one of three worlds: Program World, Student World, or Cubicle World. Program world is the plug-and-go world, where everything is built around a program and that becomes the measure of ministry effectiveness. Student world is where your only interactions are with students and you in essence try to build yourself as a peer. Cubicle world is where you have no significant relationships, you do everything by yourself, and you end up operating totally independent of your overall church vision.
Cubicle world is dangerous because it removes the value of team-based ministry and instead shifts it to independent-agent ministry. All too often this is where churches are, where the various ministries of the church work in conflict, no concert, with one another, whether it’s for resources, space, priority, volunteers, face time, or recognition. It may not be overt, but think about your church architecture: does your architecture foster or hinder groups interacting? Have you built a separate youth or children’s wing/building that keeps them from adults? Have you developed separate offices so that your staff can spend all day without seeing one another? Cubicles do that. Cubicles restrict collaboration, communication, and instead see the emphasis on the independent agent. It is up to that individual to get work done, rather than a team. It becomes Allen Iverson shooting the ball 30 times a game rather than getting his teammates involved. And sadly, this is where many student ministers find themselves: isolated, without significant relationships professionally, and often working in conflict (not war, big difference) with the other ministries of the church.
There are three key relationships every student minister should seek to build, cultivate, and cherish. They are: Pastor, Children’s Minister, and Secretary.
Pastor – Your lead pastor should fit three roles for your life: Mentor, Friend, and Boss. As mentor, you should seek out his wisdom, guidance, and experience. Many student ministers eventually want to be senior pastors, so take every opportunity to learn what it means to be a pastor. Go on hospital visits, ask him questions, probe his ministry experiences. Ask him to mentor you, to guide you. Be honest about your long-term intentions; if you’re not a lifer for student ministry, then ask him to help shape you into being a pastor. As friend, he provides you with the outlet for sharing ministry difficulties, personal accountability, and investment. And you should seek to do the same for him. Be his friend when critics come, defend him privately & publicly. And as boss, he commands your respect, loyalty, and following. Sometimes student ministers, we need to shut up and do what we’re told. Get on board with his vision for the church, follow his leadership, and work Colossians 3 style as hard as you can under his supervision.
Children’s Minister – I have always made it a point to develop a close professional relationship with whoever our children’s minister is. Within boundaries (because all three have been women), they have often been my best friends on church staffs. Champion their work, be willing to serve however/whenever for VBS, spend your morning stuffing Easter eggs for the big egg hunt outreach, and recruit for them (I push students to nursery/AWANA as much as possible). Most importantly, get on the same page. Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 call for parents to be the primary disciplers of their children, with the church coming in as partner and equipper. Get on the same page with each other, build a continuous ministry. Use the same curriculum, develop a common set of core values for your ministries, and be each other’s safeguard. We are working through some big changes in our children’s and student ministries, and both of us are quick to always use “we” when talking about things. Same page.
Secretary – My dissertation supervisor has served as a pastor for decades. He asked me who the most important person in the church office was, and when I joked that our secretary is who keeps the universe in rotation he smiled and said “Bingo, that’s it. She’s the most valuable person in the office. She’s not the pastor and not the music leader, but she keeps things together, and she knows more about the church and how things operate than you or the pastor do.” Develop a good working relationship with your church secretary, it will go a l-o-n-g way! The secretary is the glue for the church office, but unfortunately glue means that she gets the junk too. Take opportunity to serve, offer to make the office supply run, find out what kind of coffee they like, run your own copies once in a while, and make yourself available to do the menial things that have to be done (stuffing bulletins, stamping mailouts). Take time to invest in your church’s secretary as a ministry partner.
There are many more professional relationships in ministry, but these three serve as catalysts for the others. Take the time to work on these and develop a true team, flee from the lie of independent agents or competition on the church staff. You’re in the fight together, developing a true sense of fellowship will enable the task to be finished!