Richard Ross on the Charge Every Senior Pastor and Student Pastor Needs to Hear

Youth guy at SWBTS teaches

Richard Ross, Ph.D., is professor of student ministry in the Jack D. Terry School of Educational Ministries at The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is online at richardaross.com.


What if a billionaire believer approached me and said, “Ross, something has to be done about unbelieving young people who are heading toward a life of spiritual ruin and eternity without Christ. I’m going to pay to fly every SBC senior pastor and student pastor to Cowboy Stadium. That should just about fill up the place. Then I’m going to give you a microphone and let you say whatever you want to say to those folk.”

If I were given such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I would give prayerful thought to every sentence—indeed, every word—I was going to say. After 50 years of pouring over Scripture, serving as a student pastor, teaching student pastors, observing student ministries, and digesting research, I know what I would say. My brief presentation to a packed stadium would go like this:

Pastors, welcome to this historic gathering. I know you did not come here just to get more discouraged about the future of the church. Instead, I’m praying we will leave here encouraged and optimistic about what the future may bring. But very briefly, we must take a look at our current situation.

In the May 24, 2019, issue, Christianity Today reported that the biggest factor in the Southern Baptist Convention’s decline is not gaining new converts—“it’s keeping their own. … Nearly half of Southern Baptist kids leave and never come back.” The latest Annual Church Profile found the SBC had the largest drop in more than a century, according to Baptist Press.

I strongly believe in Ronnie Floyd’s Vision 2025 for the SBC. I especially embrace Strategic Action Four offered by Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. Between now and 2025, I fully believe we can “turn around the ongoing decline in the SBC in reaching, baptizing, and discipling 12- to 17-year-olds.”

In the power of the Spirit, we can see the declining graph of student baptisms begin to move upward. We can see far more students graduate from high school with a deep love for Jesus, the local church, and the Great Commission.

All of that can happen. But it won’t happen unless we make some significant changes in how we do ministry. Teenagers can accelerate the decline of the SBC. Or, in the power of the Spirit, they can spark renewal in our churches and Kingdom impact in the culture. Here are the five factors most likely to make the difference.

  1. We must introduce many more students to Jesus.

Since student baptisms decline every year, things must change. We need strategies to take the Gospel outside the church. We need students, leaders, and parents trained to have Gospel conversations. We need student ministry events planned specifically to present the Gospel.

However, church programs make a lasting difference only if the senior pastor and the student pastor model evangelistic lifestyles. Maybe both of you do. If not, for accountability, perhaps the two of you need to go out together to share the Gospel weekly. Then, when it becomes second nature, each of you can take out others—until it permeates the DNA of your church and student ministry.

  1. We must involve every student in missions.

Rich missions experiences while young lead to adults who pray, give, and go for a lifetime. The absence of such experiences usually leads to adults who don’t.

Every student needs multiple missions experiences locally each year. Every student needs a major missions experience in a challenging location in the U.S. each year. At least once during high school, every student needs an international missions experience.

Every missions experience should be strategic. Whether local or global, the ultimate goal should be to lead people to Jesus and then baptize them into churches. Compassionate service is Christlike, but such ministry should always lift eyes to Jesus and multiply the number of worshipers around the throne for eternity.

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Source: Baptist Press