I love seeing student pastors in action with their students. It’s awe-inspiring. Lots of people in the outside world hear the word “teenager” and start frowning. One day I was talking to a guy next to me on an airplane. He asked what I do for a living. For some reason, I get nervous when people ask me that question. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s not in the church world. But I gave it my best shot. Here’s how he responded: “I don’t know how you do that. It’s hard for me to even be around teenagers. I worry about the future of our nation.”

If that guy knew some of the teenagers I know, he’d have a lot more hope. And that’s exactly what I told him.

There’s a reason you do what you do for a living. You probably enjoy being around teenagers. That’s probably why you got into this profession in the first place. But spending time with students shouldn’t be your only priority.

If It may feel counterintuitive, but this single flip of priorities can set up your student ministry for years of success—with or without you.

Spend more time with leaders than students.

If you’re just getting started in student ministry and you’re wondering where to start, I suggest beginning with praying like crazy. Right after that, I suggest spending quality time with current and potential small group leaders.

If you’re part of a team launching a church plant and you’re wondering how to begin a student ministry from scratch, you should start by looking for solid small group leaders. Hang out with them (adult leaders) even before you start hanging out with students at Friday night football games.

Most new student pastors go straight for the students. Most church plants immediately form social gatherings of five to ten teenagers. That’s fine, but it would be better to start with a group of leaders than a group of students. Then, as a team, you can take the student world by storm.

Think in terms of multiple leaders, not individual leadership. Again, we’re not saying there shouldn’t be a pastor or a point person. If you’re currently recruiting leaders, you know it takes a strong leader to lead other leaders. You should be most intentional about investing in the people who invest in students.

If you’re a student pastor, the job of recruiting key leaders ultimately rests on your shoulders. Don’t be passive about hoping someone feels sorry for you and signs up to help. No, go after great people! Actively recruit them. Invest in them. Appreciate them. Lead them well so they will lead your students well.

If you want your ministry to thrive when you leave one day, this is your first move. And it’s going to take some time.

So get started!

An excerpt from Ben Crawshaw’s book “Make Believe,” which will be released April 30th at The Orange Conference.

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