ARISE: 3 Reasons Youth Pastors Don’t Do Campus Ministry…And some friendly advice on overcoming those obstacles

November 9th, 2016

Many youth pastors never step foot onto the high school campus. This is a mistake.

Although a battle takes place each week in our youth services, the war is taking place on the campus and in our community. If we seldom leave the four walls of our church, we’re missing it and we’re missing out.

There are countless connections, resources, and opportunities available on your high school campus that cannot be gained anywhere else. It isn’t until we get involved at our school that we see just what we’ve been missing.

There are three big reasons why youth pastors don’t do campus ministry. Let’s take a look at each of them and give some friendly advice on how to overcome them.

 1. Campus Ministry is INTIMIDATING

Within a church, the youth pastor naturally belongs. Connecting with students, parents, and volunteers in the church is nearly effortless as you’re in a place leadership. Everyone knows what you do and why you’re there. You even have a title. It can be uncomfortable stepping outside of this environment, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to it.

On the high school campus, there isn’t that same natural acceptance to a youth pastor. You’re not a teacher or a student. You don’t technically belong there. Many youth pastors have a tough time articulating their emotions on the first visit, but I had no problem expressing what I was feeling as a young, rookie youth pastor…

I was terrified!

The front office interrogated me, the security guard asked me why I was there, several students gave me strange looks, and I got lost on the way to the bible club.

It was a bad first week. But take heart! It isn’t usually that bad.

I didn’t give up. I went back the next week, and the next and little by little I established myself on campus as a sponsor to the Bible Club, a volunteer at the school, and a liaison between the high school and the local churches I networked with in the area.

Some friendly advice: Students are more afraid of you than you are of them (I’m making them sound like wild animals now, but seriously – they can smell fear!). If you smile, stand tall, and walk confidently onto your campus, students will accept you and eventually it will not only become normal for you to be on the campus, but it’ll be something your students really look forward to! Hang in there! Smile and fake it till you make it!

2. Campus Ministry takes TIME, EFFORT AND COMMITMENT

We’re all busy. All of us. If you’re at a large church, you probably have a lot of responsibilities. If you’re at a small church, you may be a volunteer and have to work a second job…and you still have a lot of responsibilities. Long story short, we’re all busy.

Campus Ministry isn’t about availability. It’s about priority.

You will start winning as a youth pastor when you make room for the campus on your calendar. There are opportunities, relationships, and resources that you simply cannot afford to miss out on by avoiding or neglecting the campus.

Make it a priority, and you will see the fruit of your investment returned ten fold! Some of the benefits we discovered were actually byproducts. My presence on the campus signaled a morale shift for our students. There’s something powerful about your youth pastor sitting in your geometry classroom with you. That image doesn’t quickly fade.

Our youth group went from ten students to a hundred and twenty students in a few years. I wasn’t inviting anyone to our youth ministry, but my group started inviting their friends when they realized that the campus isn’t the distant galaxy that they thought it was.

You see, when we challenge our students to share their faith at school, it’s difficult for them to believe that we get it. They see us as so far removed from their daily life. But when you’ve been to that school, that hallway, that gym, that principal’s office, your words carry a different kind of weight and authority.

The high school went from being their school to being our school.

Some friendly advice: Take it one commitment at a time. Just start. Go to a sporting event, or ask your students if you can attend the bible club or just volunteer at the school. Take a hard look at your calendar and ask yourself, “Is there room for the campus somewhere?” I’m the father of three young children and their bed time is priceless to me. I want to be there to put them to sleep and pray for them. For that reason, I prefer sporting events that happen right after school during my normal office hours. Bible clubs are great for this reason too! If I am staying out late though, I prioritize games that involve multiple students or multiple schools represented in our group. I go early and I stay late to connect with as many students, parents and family members as possible. I make it count!

3. Campus Ministry takes up RESOURCES

It doesn’t take long before you realize you can help your students and your campus by investing resources to assist them. This can be interpreted as a problem – we’re broke!

But the campus is a worthwhile investment, especially if it can lead to added spiritual dividends. We asked our bible club leaders how we could help them reach more students. They couldn’t come up with anything. So we surprised them.

I contacted a local graphic designer who created a custom logo for each club. She used the logos as well as images of the school mascots and placed them on 6-foot banners that we donated to the clubs. Every week they place these banners outside their entrance. They’ve received rave reviews from students, teachers, and administrators. We also gave the students the logos and graphics on a thumb drive for future use.

Total cost for the graphics and the banners? About two hundred dollars.

Some friendly advice: We used to do car washes and bake sales to raise money for our campus ministries. You’d be surprised what a few hundred dollars can do in the hands of creative and passionate students! It’s worth every penny! Now we just make it a line item on our budget each year. Every club receives a designated amount. We put our money where our mouth is, and our students have noticed.

If you’re struggling to get into the schools, find a local youth pastor who’s already doing it and ask for permission to shadow them. This is a fantastic way to practice being in a high school. Your confidence will skyrocket!

There’s something exhilarating about being in the school. And when I think about Jesus and the ministry that he modeled for us, I can’t help but think he’d want us there, among the people, making a difference.

You won’t regret it.

ROB GILLEN is the High School & College Age Pastor at Christian Life Assembly in Camp Hill, PA and has served in student ministries for 10 years. He has his Masters in theological studies and he’s an Adjunct Professor at the University of Valley Forge. Rob and his wife Kara parent a son and two beautiful daughters.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.