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 fourth interview in this series is with Craig Maart. Craig serves as the Middle School Pastor at the Evangelical Free Church of Hershey.
- 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 have had the privilege and luxury of being a full-time middle school pastor for the past 23 years. My paid ministry started in Miramar, Florida (5 years), just below Fort Lauderdale, then to New Hope, Minnesota (10 years), just west of Minneapolis and now in Hershey, Pennsylvania (7.5 years). These churches have ranged from 700-3,500 people. I have enjoyed and benefitted from longevity at the three churches I have been a part of.
Before full-time ministry I served at Camp Chetek in Wisconsin as junior counselor and as a camp counselor for another three summers. It was through this I knew God called me to full-time student ministry.
I also traveled with a sports camp team for my Bible College throughout the mid-west for one summer and served all throughout College at a local church. I did not do as much through seminary as I had to work while completing seminary.
- How has your view of youth ministry changed from when you started to now?
From the start I was too concerned about the part I lead in student ministry vs the mission of the whole church. I’ll always believe in the need for student ministry, but we need to work to help students stay connected to their parents and the spiritual life of the church as a whole. If students only come to the student services and activities they are missing out on being connected to the mission of the church. This is one of the leading causes of college age students leaving the church. Everyone needs to be connected to the multi-generational mission of the church.
- Share one of your favorite student ministry moments.
I’d say a mission’s trip we took to Denver, CO with the church from MN. It was a culmination of years of God working in me to become a better disciple and release people for ministry. The week represented years of work to train and set up leaders for more vital leadership within our student ministry. New and veteran leaders really stepped up with ownership of the trip, their students and the big picture of what we were trying to do as a student ministry. I was really along for the ride to support and be part of what God was doing. I felt appropriate pride in what was happening, because it was not dependent on me.
- Share one of your least favorite ministry moments
Without question the answer to that was being part of the funeral service for one of our students and a personal friend of my daughter who took her life. It was a heartache I don’t want to experience again. I almost stopped two times on the way to church for the funeral service to throw up. I was that distraught with sorrow and love for the family. At the same time it was an honor to be there for the family and to continue walking with them.
- What resources do you find helpful to use in student ministry?
A good Bible study app. I use blueletterbible.org a lot.
I use and try to get students to seek answers from gotquestions.org
You can’t go wrong with easy resources from:
I just warn youth workers to seek God for fresh direction and teaching material vs simply buying or teaching through material someone else is selling. Like all areas of life there are people in the full-time business of selling things. It will be too easy to look to what others have done vs what God is leading you to be about in your ministry context.
- 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 take my time off. Without apology I take my time off. I have learned to setup boundaries with my weekly day off and vacation time. I even started doing things on days off to keep me away from the office, such as baking bread, lawn care, sitting in my hammock and working on our vehicles.
There will always be people to love and things to prepare for, but after burning out twice and almost leaving ministry I knew I needed to change this part of my life. I got help and learned to better care for myself with my days off and personal time. I learned to prioritize my relationship with God and my family. Our son in in college and our daughter is going to be a senior in high school, so my wife and I are preparing to be being empty nesters. We take time off together without either child, to make sure we are working on us. We will have more years without our kids in the house vs with them in the house. I want to have a strong marriage far beyond raising kids together. These are things I wish I had learned or taken action on from the beginning.
I am also part of a men’s group with guys from my community. Some don’t attend my church and that’s ok. We have been meeting for 7 years. I get to be Craig there and not Pastor Craig. I need that. I don’t prefer to get up for a 6 am meeting, but I will for this. It is inflow for me.
- What advice would you give to yourself when you started as a youth pastor if you could go back to that time?
A few things:
- Love your wife. Make sure she feels more prioritized than ministry, even if she is involved with you in student ministry. No one is commanded to love her but her husband.
- Put into action a plan to disciple your own kids, not just other peoples kids.
- Work to get to know your senior pastor: their heart, vision and direction for the church.
- Be in good communication with your pastor or whomever you report to. They don’t like to be blindsided or surprised with situations by being left out of the loop. Honor through communication, even when it’s hard.
- Give authority and leadership spotlight away! Secure leaders will give authority away. Draw people in; be clear with your vision (answer the why question – why do you do anything in your local church context) and release for ministry.
- Have Fun. Your leadership style and connection with God must be contagious, so have fun. Enjoy the blessings of life and work to make sure the disciple-making process is fun.
Thank you, Craig, for taking time to answer these questions. Two weeks from today I will post our fifth edition of “Welcome to Student Ministry” with a youth minister from Kentucky!