As youth workers, we have an odd sort of honor. We are afforded the opportunity to watch students grow as Christians, as human beings, as artists, actors, and athletes. In short, we get to watch students grow from children into adults. It’s an amazing opportunity. But the path that students walk is often one that is filled with bumps.
If we’re honest with ourselves, plenty of our students grow up and right out of the faith–if they ever had a faith to begin with. We see students who come to our ministries, talk about God, but turn around and give God maybe an hour and a half each week while they devote truly massive quantities of time to video games, sports, drama practices, T.V. shows, learning instruments and any other number of pursuits.
Add to these frustrations the fact that many of us are trying to chart a course for our ministries that moves away from fun, fun, fun, fun and into a more contemplative, authentic, religious, faith-filled, Jesus-centered, active nurturing of students’ faith and it becomes easy to see how one might become cynical. After all, charting such a course isn’t without its own unique frustrations. Even so, as we serve this God we claim to love, it is always important to remember that he is full of surprises.
I was privileged to work with two wonderful interns in our youth ministry this summer. As they sought God early in the summer, they felt a pull toward talking about Christian Practices with our students. So, this summer, we spent a large amount of time talking about Prayer, Scripture Reading, Fasting, Table Fellowship, Worship, Justice, and Sabbath. We haven’t only talked about it, but we’ve tried to enact several of these practices in different ways. I’ve learned a great deal and been challenged on a plethora of fronts (one of them being to step up my own practice of prayer).
Now, at the end of this summer, we’ve had several students–after a summer of encouragement–decide to begin cultivating one of these practices in their own lives. Some have chosen prayer, others Scripture reading, others are thinking of ways to practice justice in the midst of life. I’m truly humbled to be a part of what Jesus is doing in their lives. But, as I look back at our planning in the early summer, I’m not convinced that any of us actually expected this kind of response. Let me be clear: I have students asking me to hold them accountable to reading their Bibles, or to daily prayer. In small ways our students are beginning to live out the community that is the Church. I could not be more excited.
But, as I said, at the beginning of the summer I don’t know if we really expected students to grab hold of these ideas. In fairness, it is easy–as a youth worker–to set expectations low. So often we’re disappointed. We’ve all had the experience of putting hours into preparing a lesson only to have to endure students talking the entire time we try to deliver it. Or we’ve spent months praying for a student only to have that student decide that youth group isn’t “cool enough” anymore. We’re completely justified in protecting ourselves by setting our expectations low (though, as an aside, we’re probably missing the point of relationships when we have this kind of approach and attitude).
Be that as it may, it doesn’t make it right. Shame on us for not trusting God and not trusting our students to want to know God more. If you’re a youth worker currently in the midst of planning for the upcoming school year, take a bit of advice: trust your students. They really do want to become more like Jesus. What’s more, trust God. He certainly wants your students to live out the Christian life.