What Students Expect of Youth Leaders
Biblical Worldviews are Caught Not Taught – Part 2
In my last post, A Biblical Worldview is Caught Not Taught , I focused on the idea that most students lack the sense of how Christianity functions as a unified, overarching system of truth that applies to every area of life. Instead, they hold to Christianity as a collection of truths, but not as Truth. As leaders and parents of youth, it is imperative that our students move beyond seeing their faith as the means of tapping into some kind of special formula or ticket to heaven. Far too many students are living with a borrowed faith, rather than one that they not only own but as part of a worldview they operate in on a daily basis.
I think it is safe to assume that every parent and youth leader desires their students to do just that, and I am certain that we all pray for it, daily. I know I do. We all want students to work toward living a more Christ-like life, to walk in obedience, to find God’s calling, to be confident when they go off to college. We pray, we worry; we make sure they are in youth group, spending time with the right kind of friends, and involved in regular Bible studies. Some even invest thousands in Christian education for an added measure of security and assurance that our students are surrounded by a strong Christian environment all the time.
These are all good ideas and I support them all (except maybe the worrying).
What are students catching?
But what if you asked the students what they expected out of us? I only listed the things that we expect of ourselves in doing everything we can so our students live with a biblical worldview. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask that very question of some of my current and former students. The responses were simple, bold, honest, and even stung a little. I boiled the comments down into two very simple ideas.
Get your hands dirty. Believe it or not, students want us adults to do life with them. They actually want us involved. But they don’t want to be told where they have messed up at every corner. They want us to walk along side them, give them the tools they need to learn from mistakes, move forward, suffer defeat, and enjoy victory. They don’t want drill sergeants or helicopter parents; they want (and desperately need) consultants.
Essentially, isn’t this discipleship at its best? Our students don’t need more friends. Parents and youth leaders you’re not called to be their friends—they don’t want you playing that role—they need mentors, adults to hold them accountable, and challenge them to higher thinking and greater character. But this requires us to walk alongside them and get our hands dirty. Good mentoring does not happen by accident. Good mentoring happens intentionally with design and purpose. It is leaders seeking to walk with students rather than talking at them. Students respond when we are transparent with them, honest with them, treat them as adults and hold them in high regard alone with high standards.
Stop being hypocrites. The old adage of do as I say, not as I do, is garbage. My parents said it to me all the time; and yes, I confess, I have said it to my kids. But we all know that if you spend enough time with students (yours or someone else’s), students will act like the adults they spend time with. Period. You want them to act like Jesus? You first. You want them to be watching, listening, reading, etc., the right kind of stuff? You first. You want them to be imitators of God? You first. Whether we realize it or not, students know when we are blowing it and acting like a hypocrite; and the message we are sending them is that Jesus must not be all that important. When we compromise our worldview, our students assume its okay for them to do it.
Youth leaders and parents have an incredible responsibility to model what a well adjusted, disciple-making adult looks like. It is not only in your behavior and attitude, but also in your relationships, marriage, parenting, and even what you wear. Students are watching everything.
We send our high school graduates into the fire on their college campuses ill-equipped, with unanswered questions, and expect them to continue to play the Christian game. But have you asked yourself when the last time you had a deep faith conversation with someone at work? We expect our kids to spend a considerable amount of time praying about which college to attend, yet how much did we seek God in our last career move? We hope and pray that our students will discover the ability to treat belief in Jesus as absolute truth, but find ourselves living the same dichotomy we preach at them to avoid; one life in truth on Sunday mornings and another life compromising it Monday through Saturday.
Yeah, that one hurt a little. I know. But what you are feeling is a reminder that students are paying attention to everything. On one end, that might seem like a huge responsibility, but it is also a huge opportunity. Take advantage.
When you ask, you will often find that students’ honesty is simple, profound and even slightly disturbing. Listen to your students. They are smart, insightful, and are bent on changing the world. Our job is to help them, and guide them, so they change it for the Kingdom of God. It begins with us. The mission of the church is to be Jesus, do as he did, and take over the world with the gospel. Our job as youth leaders is to train up disciples who can do it better than we ever imagined.
Executive Director of AwanaYMSteve currently serves as the Executive Director of AwanaYM. Previously, Steve spent over a decade teaching high school theology and apologetics from Detroit to LA. Steve holds a Masters degree in Theology from Moody Theological Seminary and a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Steve is also an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He speaks and writes on youth ministry, youth culture and apologetics. He resides in Chicago, IL with his wife and four children.
Follow Steve Kozak on Twitter: stevenmkozak
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