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W orking with students and youth has changed drastically over the years, and the fruits of those changes are seen in the student ministries programs at The Bridge in Portage, Michigan. The days of gross food challenges and games that are meant to make everyone laugh (usually at the expense of one or two students) have given way to deeper messages and worship that is dripping with the Holy Spirit. These types of changes have been paving the way for a new style of leadership at The Bridge.

In student ministries, we teach and train all students that they are ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ right where they are and that they have the same authority that God gives all believers in Luke 10:18-­19! With that kind of authority, Paul’s instruction to Timothy—“Let no one despise your youth” (1 Timothy 4:12)—takes on deeper meaning. Our students are meant to lead right where they are, and not only be an example to the church, they are meant to be the church where they are!

This model would be just a bunch of talk unless we actually empowered our students to do what we are teaching them to do. What can that empowering look like? Every ministry will be a bit different, but at The Bridge, we have implemented a student leadership team to help define vision and direction, set lesson schedules, deliver those lessons, and run our student band. During the summer months, we give our adult volunteers a break from their weekly commitments, which gives the student leadership team the opportunity to own every aspect of student ministries. From dreaming to planning to implementation, our students decide what the summer will look like, and then they work hard to make it happen!

But these examples are just the logistical things of student ministries. The real depth comes from teaching students how to share the grace, mercy, love, conviction, life, and joy that God gives us every day with everyone in their world, friends or family or enemies or annoying people all included. When students have active faith, it changes how they handle every situation in their lives.

Students and youth are capable of way more than the church gives them credit for. It’s time to let our students do what we have trained them to do.

Jeff Fernandez

Jeff Fernandez is director of student ministries at The Bridge Ministries in Portage, Michigan.