I’ve heard it said that students are the church of tomorrow, but I really struggle with that — I believe students are the church of today and the future church leaders of tomorrow.

Students need adults who love Jesus, love them and take the time to disciple them. They need ministry experience and training as youth to be able to move into leadership opportunities as adults.

Deuteronomy 6 gives instructions to parents to disciple their children in every area of life, but don’t miss that the passage is addressed to Israel — the entire body of believers.

As followers of Christ, we all have the responsibility to train students in the way that they should go. Jesus gave us the Great Commission, which commands us to make disciples as we are going. It just makes sense that we should disciple students as we go about our ministries.

It has always been my ministry philosophy that students attend and participate in age-appropriate ministries and learn to serve in those areas.

Students are quite effective at serving in traditionally adult-led leadership roles like offering a warm welcome, singing, playing instruments, leading in worship, leading in prayer and scripture reading, and even sharing part of the lesson. As students serve, they begin to take ownership, and ministry becomes by students not simply for them.

Encouraging students to serve in the ministries designed for their age is important.

When students serve, they bring energy, excitement and encouragement to the adults who serve in these ministries.

In my 26 years of ministry, we had Youth Vacation Bible School (VBS). The youth began in the opening worship rally and then participated in youth ministry missions to the community. They returned for snacks and the closing worship rally.

I was blessed to have students work with me as interns during the summer each year. We worked together in planning and preparing for the leadership roles for Youth VBS and community mission. Adult leaders served as drivers and in support roles.

Equally important is encouraging youth to serve in ministries beyond their age or grade. Enlist responsible students who are willing to be equipped and give them roles that empower them to serve. Continue to work alongside them and encourage them to continue to grow in that ministry capacity.

Students can help serve alongside adults in various nursery, preschool and children’s ministries. They can serve in tech ministries running lights, cameras, sound, etc. Students are capable of being so much more than just “gofers.”

It has been my experience that when students serve, they bring energy, excitement and encouragement to the adults who serve in these ministries. Students are also the best at connecting with other students. Pastors should include students in every outreach ministry and mission effort of their church.

One of my greatest joys has been to watch students grow through ministry over the years. Many of them now serve as adults in those same ministries. Several students have gone on to pursue ministry and mission vocations. Their servant’s heart was cultivated in part during their youth ministry service experiences.

Whatever it may look like in your ministry context, consider engaging, equipping, empowering and encouraging students to serve in ministry. In the process, I pray that God will raise up a new generation of disciple-making church leaders.