I have been serving in paid Student Ministry in some way for the last 18+ years. Just to let you know, Student Ministry years are like dog years, but I think instead of 7 years per 1 human year for the dog I think it’s more like 3 years per 1 regular year for the student pastor. I have found myself being reflective this week of the experiences that I have had over those years, and I realize that all of the churches that I have served have been established churches.
You may find yourself asking, “What is an established church?” Well, before I give a definition, I want to highlight my current context. This weekend, FBC Enterprise will hold it’s 125th Anniversary Celebration. I have been on staff here for 5 1/2 years, which is a long time for a Student Pastor to be on staff in one place, but is only 4.4% of the time FBCE has existed as a church. That is very humbling.
An established church is one that has been around for a while. Now, a while (in the southern vernacular) can mean a variety of different measurements of time, but I will endeavour to unpack what I have observed that means. I would encourage you to check out the EST. Church podcast on iTunes. The guys that produce the podcast are all younger pastors serving in established churches.
I think an established church will be one that has closets full of stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day in at least 15+ years. I feel like Indiana Jones when I help clean out one of those closets at church. An established church will have multiple generations of the same family worshipping and serving together. It will also have items in the constitution and bylaws that reference some long ago happening in the church that really doesn’t apply anymore. The established church is one that consistently does funerals because you have senior saints passing on to eternity with Jesus. An established church is one that has Sunday School classes that aren’t just named with their age group but have an actual name (like the Lydia class or the Barnabas class). The established church is probably a church that has multiple worship services that have different worship styles or one worship service that people complain about because it is too contemporary or too traditional. The established church is a church that has lots of stories, both good and bad, of the history of the church. Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list of the characteristics of an established church or even a list that identifies every established church, but it is a start for what an established church looks and feels like.
I love serving in the established church. That may seem counterintuitive when it comes to leading a ministry that focuses on teenagers in a church that is over 100 years old, but there are significant benefits to that. There are three particular benefits of leading a Student Ministry in an established church that I want to outline below
- The Heritage of faithfulness is inspiring- The established church has been around for a while. Our church has been in existence for 125 years. That may not seem like a big deal, but the statistics say that 100-200 churches close their doors each week. That is 5000-10000 churches a year that are no longer a light in their communities. Psalm 61:5 says that God has given us the heritage of those that fear your name. That is an incredible truth for Student Ministry in the established church. Those that have gone before us have been faithful to the Lord in leading his church and we get to reap the rewards of the heritage of their faithfulness. It should also inspire us to continue that heritage so that those that come after us will be able to hold the 250th anniversary for FBCE and remember what those that came before us and we did to continue a Godly heritage.
- There are great wisdom and biblical knowledge- So often, in student ministry, the idea that today’s culture was very different than culture even 25 years ago. I would say that it is different, but not vastly so. If you read the bible and listen to stories of some of our older church members, you will hear about cultural struggles that they went through that we are still dealing with now. Joy, faithfulness, and stewardship of what God has entrusted you with do not change with the culture. These are timeless attributes of a true believer. It is excellent serving in a church that has members who have been a Christian longer than I have been alive. These senior saints have been around the block multiple times and have seen significant shifts in what life looks like in our cultural context. These people are like living, breathing time capsules and they have a desire to share what they have learned. This learning isn’t just practical knowledge, but it biblical as well. I still remember talking to a church member who was in their 80’s. This man had studied his bible every day of his adult life, and he wanted to find someone to share the knowledge with. Now, I have a degree from a seminary, but nothing that I learned in seminary can take the place of daily bible study for over 60 years. What an incredible opportunity we have to connect students to people who have followed God faithfully for their whole lives!
- There is a solid foundation- Now, I would be the first person to tell you that sometimes that solid foundation can be difficult to deal with. It is difficult when there are rules that have been in place for years that no one likes, but you can not change them because we have always done it that way. However, it is an incredible place to be in a church with a solid foundation. These churches buildings that are already built, systems that are established, and people who are already serving. Those that came before have already done the hard work of creating something that would last. At FBCE we have an incredible space for students and do not want for funding to reach more students and their families for Jesus. We have a foundation of serving in the Student Ministry as leaders that have been laid down 125 years ago. I recently saw a picture of a VBS at FBC Enterprise that happened over 80 years ago. That picture had over 80 children and students in it, but more importantly, you saw the adults who were teaching in that VBS standing in the back. The students that we currently have in the student ministry stant, both literally and figuretively, on that foundation every day. I pray that the work we do with them inspires them to continue building on that foundation so that students in another 100 years will look back and appreciate what they have done.
God has done mighty things through FBC Enterprise in the last 125 years. I hope that our students see that he has blessed us with a faithful church and I pray that the students will help to continue that legacy of faithfulness.