The goal of “Welcome to Student Ministry” is to post interviews that help guide both new and experienced student pastors toward faithful ministry over many years. This third interview in this series is with Matt Ross. Matt serves as the Student Pastor at Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Tell our readers some background information about how long you have been in student ministry, how you started, and anything else that you think would be useful.
I started out serving in Student Ministry as a volunteer in college leading a group of students on Sunday mornings. Since that time of initially just wanting to be a faithful contributor in my local church, while sensing God’s calling into pastoral ministry, I have now served in Student Ministry over the past 8 school years in a variety of Student Ministry settings. Over those 8 years I have served in part-time ministry roles and full-time ministry roles in both Kentucky and Ohio all while earning a Master of Divinity from Southern Seminary. I now serve full-time as the Student Pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky.
- How has your view of youth ministry changed from when you started to now?
When I stepped into my first paid youth ministry position, I was extremely zealous to be the best pastor that I could be. I am still, by God’s grace, zealous for the work that I do, but back then as a 23-year-old, I worked under the assumption that through my preaching, my approach to ministry, the discipleship relationships I would establish, and the events I would plan out that I would see tremendous results in student’s lives very quickly. I soon figured out that ministry of any kind is, more often than not, slow, tedious, and persevering work. One mentoring pastor that I was privileged to work with in the past instilled in me these words of wisdom when it comes to any form of pastoral ministry: “We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in 1 year and underestimate what can be achieved in 5.” I’ve found that to be very, very true in the ministry work that I’ve done with students.
- Share one of your favorite student ministry moments.
This past year as my group was heading into Middle School Camp, our caravan of vehicles was checking in at the front of the camp facility with some of the camp volunteer leaders. As my vehicle approached the front, a young man approached my vehicle and as he saw my face screamed out my name. It was a male student from the first group of students I ever worked with 6 years earlier. I hadn’t seen him or spoken with him in over 5 years. He proceeded to tell me that just seeing me that afternoon made his day. He thanked me for the ways I cared for him, taught him, and influenced him during his high school years. My heart was flooded with thankfulness to see that particular student now serving in youth ministry, loving Christ, and loving the church as a young adult.
- Share one of your least favorite ministry moments.
My first year that I was in a paid student ministry position, our group took a summer trip that was very service oriented. While there I had a female high school student that was having a terrible time and was letting everyone in the group know about it. While several groups were out one night in a park nearby playing and enjoying ice cream, she was making a huge scene letting everyone know how much she did not want to be there. Literally, imagine a high school girl yelling at the top of her lungs with over a hundred other students in a park about how much she didn’t want to be there. It was then and there I stepped into a lesson I had been taught but had yet lived: I couldn’t just be student’s friend, but I needed to lead and pastor. At 23, I dreaded approaching her, but knew I had to. I pulled her aside, confronted her in her sin, and told her to act within my boundaries or I’d be calling her mom to make a long drive to come pick her up. Ironically, that student has spoken of me fondly years later, but I dreaded that moment at the time.
- What resources do you find helpful to use in student ministry?
The best resources that I utilize in Student Ministry are like minded friends who serve as Student Pastors. It is so helpful to have friends in the trenches of ministry who you can look to for encouragement and who know how to talk you off the cliff when you are struggling. Most of us have similar experiences and struggles, so finding those key men who can help me in personal things, to ministry structures, to organizing my thoughts are really helpful. I try to talk to a few guys who are dear friends to me in student ministry fairly consistently.
- What is one or two things that you do to make sure that you do so that you don’t burn out as a youth pastor?
I listen to my wife. That same mentoring pastor I mentioned before would often say, “every pastor needs a wife, if for no other reason than to keep him humble.” I have found that my wife often has a lot more wisdom and perspective on things than I do, and so I’ve learned to heed her warnings when I’m trying to do too much. I can only speak personally, but my wife is a tremendous encouragement to me in the ministry particularly in how she guards, keeps, grounds me in a truthful perspective, and propels me onward.
Additionally, I guard my private life of devotion to God. If I am not reorienting my mind around truth in God’s Word and a private life of prayer, I’m really no good for anybody. I’ve got to keep stoking the embers of my own heart in God’s means of grace to be able to serve with perseverance and zeal for the work. That’s basic, but a lot of times the basics are the most important things.
- What advice would you give to yourself when you started as a youth pastor if you could go back to that time?
Trust that God will work through His sufficient Word. When you are seeking to truly honor God in being faithful to proclaim and deliver the truth to students and saturating your work in prayer, God will work. It may not happen quickly, it may not have an immediate return on investment, but God will accomplish what He desires through His Word.
Work with parents as much as you can. They’re not your enemy. In general, the most Jesus loving students I’ve seen come through Student Ministry over the years, come from Jesus loving families. That’s not always the case most definitely, but generally, if you can get parents to realize their influence and seek to partner with them between the church and the home in ministry, it’s awesome.
Thank you, Matt, for taking time to answer these questions. Two weeks from today I will post our fourth edition of “Welcome to Student Ministry” with a student pastor from Pennsylvania who has been working as a full time middle school pastor for over 23 years!