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Where have all the student pastors gone?

I received yet another inquiry today: “Do you have any recommendations for a student minister? We just can’t seem to find one. We’ve been looking for over six months.”

For several years, I would get similar inquiries about worship leaders or worship pastors. Today, there seems to be a dearth of both worship pastors and student pastors. So, where have all the student pastors gone? I asked some key leaders I trust on this issue. Here are their and my perspectives:

  • A number of young leaders decided to plant a church rather than enter into or continue in youth ministry. Youth ministry traditionally has been a field dominated by young males. Many of these young males began narrowing their vocational choices to student ministry or church planting. A large number decided to plant churches. On the one hand, that’s a really good development. We definitely need more church planters. On the other hand, many churches are now pleading for student pastors.
  • Fewer schools are offering training in student ministry. It’s a chicken or egg question. Are fewer schools offering this training and, as a consequence, fewer young people are becoming student pastors? Or, are fewer young people seeking the training and, thus, the schools are closing the programs because of diminished demand? Either way, there are fewer trained youth ministers.
  • It is becoming increasingly common for many churches to call a student pastor from their own congregations. These youth ministers then do not always seek training from a college or seminary and, thus, the schools often close their programs. Smaller churches typically do not have the pool of internal candidates the larger churches do. And these churches are among the most frustrated in their search for student pastors.
  • Some churches have eliminated the position of student pastor and replaced it with a family pastor position. Family pastors often have much broader roles than ministering to middle school and/or high school students. Thus, these churches have lost a specific focus on student ministry for adolescents.
  • Fewer middle school and high school students attend church. The Gen Z generation has fewer in church than previous generations. This development is not new. It began with both Gen X and the Millennials. But the trend continues unabated. Fewer students means a diminished need for student pastors.

A number of churches that contact me believe a good student pastor is the magic bullet solution to help grow their churches and make them younger. If a church is in decline and growing older, it is unlikely that one person can reverse those trends. The church as a whole must change first and follow in greater obedience to the Great Commission.

I am curious. Are you seeing this same dearth of student pastors? Have you been looking for one for your church unsuccessfully? I would love to hear your story on this topic. Let me hear from you.

Originally posted at

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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