STUDENT PASTOR’S WIFE
Written by Lisa Schwartz
I was captured by student ministry my junior year at Wheaton College in Illinois. I got involved serving in the Student Impact High School Ministry at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois. This has continued to be my passion for the last 30 years. I think I “got it” when I watched student’s lives changed for eternity and then saw them reach into their families lives with the love of Christ in my early days at Willow. My husband and I have been privileged to be a part of exceptional churches in addition to Willow Creek Community Church: Oakbrook Community Church in Kokomo, Indiana, and Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The majority of my time serving the church has been as a volunteer in student ministry. I have learned on my journey that I love small groups, spiritual growth, helping people assimilate into the life of the church and leading and coaching adult leaders who lead students. I was a stay-at-home mom when our kids were little, and currently, I am a working mom. I teach middle school PE, coach basketball, and am a service coach for girls’ middle school small groups. In addition to that, I try to cook dinner most nights, while squeezing in all my children’s sporting events. Yes, my life is full, probably a lot like yours.
I serve in student ministry because I love it. I don’t do it because my husband does it, however, it is amazing to serve together. I do love his leadership, and consider it a blessing to have similar passions, yet very different spiritual gifts. I will try to walk through a few things I wish I would have known early in my student ministry years.
BE YOU, NOT HIM: I am in a Bible study at work and we are studying Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Through this study, I was reminded that I lived in my husband’s shadow early in our ministry years, but I did not realize it and it took me some time to sort this out. He had a big shadow: great teacher, leader, visionary and BIG personality. I thought I needed to be more like him and tried to do so. I tried to teach and lead like him, and while some of that was good and stretching, Jesus was reminding me to be me. I had to find what I love and am good at, and to do that with my whole heart. My heart beat for the church is uniquely mine, and I bring a unique perspective to our relationship through how I serve. I would encourage you to explore your spiritual gifts and to seek to serve in them. This will take time and is a slow process. If you are not sure where to serve, then my strong advice would be that youth ministry is the mini-church, and you can usually find or create a role that will fit you there. As you explore service and find what you love, remember it is helpful to engage for a committed period of time to a ministry. As you grow and learn over time you may be pulled out of youth ministry and into other areas of the church. This is totally fine and can be very healthy depending on your season of life. It may be just for a short time, or for longer. When and if this happens, please, have a good, healthy, strong presence in the student ministry environments when it fits. It is important for students to see and know you, as you are a role model to them, and they are watching your every move.
THINK LIKE A PARENT: This is probably the biggest piece of advice that we give to new, younger leaders in our ministry. You are dealing with people’s pride and joy, their children, and you have to value, respect and honor them. In student ministry, this can be hard to do when you are not a parent yourself. So you have to seek advice from mentors and leaders, read books, watch parents, and be a learner. When you are making big picture ministry decisions, always think about what will parents think, and let this help guide you. Many parents are open to great, fun, big all-night type ideas, as long as they are safely and thoughtfully executed. I would also suggest that you find a few parents whom you respect and invite them into your circle. Trust and lean into them for support and wisdom in your ministry. You need people who can lend this point of view at all seasons of your ministry. You are trying to create something that ultimately you want students and parents to love, so you must keep them in mind as you think, dream and plan your ministry year. Also, parents really like to be kept in the loop with good solid communication along the way, as they are busy driving all of their kids around! So find multiple ways to communicate with parents!
PRAY, FOLLOW LEADINGS, AND SHOW UP: In any ministry role this statement is key, and for wives of student ministry pastors, this should be a mantra. You need to be prepared with prayer, open to the work of the Holy Spirit, and committed enough to show up consistently. Yes, even when your day has been tough or full, you’re fighting sickness, or the myriad of excuses we are all tempted to lean towards. Student ministry tends to have a full calendar and it requires a balanced tenacity. Be tough, ladies. God honors those who “show up”, especially when it has taken what can sometimes feel like a monumental effort to get to church. I have been in that place so many times. When we pull ourselves together and just “show up,” we will be blessed and used by God. It is transformational when we actually just allow Him to work through our weakness.
TEAM: Student Ministry is more fun with a team of adults serving and growing in community. Please don’t think your husband and you need to do it all and be all to everyone. You cannot. But, you can gather people around you and assemble a team to help show the love of Christ to students. The team of adults that I serve with always includes some great friends that give back, grow and stretch me. I have been privileged to do most of my ministry on teams, and to me, it is the BEST! I know being on strong teams has kept me in student ministry for the last 30 years.