I had a former student from my previous church reach out to me. That may not be the biggest deal, but the last time I was in a youth room with this student was about 15 years ago and four states away.

He thought of me because of how I ministered to him in his teenage years. I had impacted him, and because of that impact, he wanted to reach out to me when he needed some encouragement and direction.

No matter why you are no longer the youth pastor at your previous church, the students you ministered to will consider you their youth pastor. It doesn’t matter if you were promoted, fired, or moved across the country. There will be students who think back to their youth group days and think of YOU as their youth pastor.

So what can you do when those students reach back out to you?

Pray for Them

Usually, former students reach out because they need some spiritual direction. In this time of searching, remember to take some time to pray for them. This may seem secondhand to some, but for those of you who may no longer be at a church but instead work in a different field, it may not be as intuitive.

We talk about our students being missionaries at their school. We encourage them to pray for their friends, teachers, coaches, etc. We may forget this for ourselves when we’re no longer working at a church.

Remember that these students see you as their spiritual leader. Or, at the very least, remember you as such. Take this opportunity to lead them spiritually!

Be Their Cheerleader

Have you ever reached out to a friend or family member for help in a time of need? What did you need from them? Hope? Wisdom? Love? Encouragement?

Probably a little bit of all of those.

Take this opportunity to be your former student’s cheerleader!

They may have reached out to you during real pain, worry, anxiety, or fear. Encourage them in their time of need!

Remind them how much God loves them, that you love them, and that you are on their team.

Help Them Get Connected

The former student who reached out to me sought consistent spiritual guidance. Now, in the time of Zoom and FaceTime and all the ways we get connected, I could have offered them all of those things.

But I know what I need when I have been in those dark times.

I needed people.

Face to face, knee to knee, toe to toe people.

I hit up my buddy, who is still serving in that area. I told him I had been contacted by a student and asked if he’d be willing to meet. And I ask the student if he’d be willing to hang with a friend of mine.

Everybody was.

It’s a great idea to try to stay in contact with pastors and mentors in your previous church if you can. So that when a former student reaches out, you can connect them to people who can actually meet face-to-face.

And if you’re still in the area, arrange a coffee and hang out in person!

There’s something about face-to-face, in-person time together that can’t be beat.

Point Them to Jesus

You served this student as their spiritual leader for a time. That’s probably why they are reaching out to you specifically. When you were their spiritual leader, it was your job to point them to Jesus. It’s still the best thing you can do!

Whether they are far from God or just feeling that way, take some time to point them back to their Savior. Remind them how much Jesus loves them and encourage them with the good news of the Gospel.

Not platitudes or pithy sayings.

The real person of Christ.

Read Scripture over them. Remind them of what Jesus did in His day and what He’s doing right now.

That’s the best thing you can do as a spiritual guide and mentor!

Keep At It

I got a text yesterday from the pastor I had connected my former student to. They had made the decision to get baptized! I was so grateful for the church as I watched my former student get baptized by the pastor who replaced the pastor who replaced me.

We’re not in ministry to bring ourselves glory.

We’re in ministry to point others to Jesus.

And it was a beautiful moment to be a part of.

Remember: you’ll always be someone’s student pastor or youth minister.

When they reach out to you, point them to Jesus and be grateful for the time you have been given to minister to them!