I am not God.
(Disclaimer: This was originally written several years ago as a conversation and reminder to myself about student ministry. A few changes have been made and it now applies to me in parenting as well. I believe that it may also be helpful to you as you walk through the adventures know as ministry and parenting.)
Youth ministry is a beautiful thing. To be a youth pastor is a smattering of challenges rolled together into a nice little package of blessings. In no other way does one have the opportunity to impact so many students in a way that truly counts towards eternity. Even though I, like you, have had many hard days, long nights and extended time away from my family, I love the adventure that is known as youth ministry. It has taken me a while to get to the point where I can truly enjoy and see the greatness of this calling. This is due in part to the ever-present challenges that are common to all of “our” youth groups. It is mostly due to the fact that I came into this whole thing with several wrong assumptions. Excuse the slang but, “I had my job description all jacked up.”
First, I thought what my students needed most was a buddy. I thought if I could just “be cool” with them then that would give me the street cred that I needed to speak the truths of God into their lives. That method came up wanting. My group, like yours, is not immune to the destruction of the family. I have always had several students that are hurting because of their pasts. I also have had several students that have “interesting” parents. Interesting in that I know that these parents exist because I see the proof (the students) but outside of that, they are a no-show. This led me to my next misconception in thinking that the students needed me to be a father figure to them. If I could love them in a fatherly way, then they would in turn trust me to minister to them. Strike two. Then there was the third idea that I was some kind of superhero. I was mistaken in thinking that I could do something to magically fix or protect my students from pain. I/We can’t. I still struggle with all three of these false views of student ministry. Quite honestly I always will because I do think that certain areas of youth ministry require us to walk closely to the line of each of these places. However the greatest realization in this process has been both freeing and empowering for this ministry. While not the most revolutionary of ideas it is most certainly true.
I am not God!
I know that right now you are probably hammering that statement with every 90’s child’s favorite term, “Duh.” I don’t think or believe that I am God but sometimes my actions or feelings demonstrate otherwise. I often allow myself to believe or act in ways that say, “I understand all, know all, can handle all and desire to do so.” As a matter of fact there is an ever present saying among the youth in the ministry that I lead, “Brock knows all.” This comes from the curse of finding out every detail about the students that I minister to. I say curse because I flat out wish I didn’t know about all of their drama, family issues, hurts, and foolish decisions. I want to scream in reply to their statement, “NO I DON’T NOR DO I WANT TO.” Deep down, however, I like it (Confession Time). It makes me feel special and important and like I can do something about it. I am in my 7th year of vocational student ministry so I am still one of the new kids on the block but I am slowly beginning to see the a truth that is absolutely freeing. Hence this message to you (mostly me) about what I have learned thus far.
We are not God!! The great thing is that we are not supposed to be. We do not know all! Praise Jesus. We can fix nothing! Though this is a jagged little pill to swallow, it is absolutely freeing and transformational when it comes to working with students… or anyone, for that matter. It is freeing because it allows me to get back to what I am supposed to be doing in the first place. I was not called to be a superhero. God did not call me to be Him but to talk about Him and to point people to Him. I am slowly realizing that the only thing I can offer His students is myself (time), prayer (concern), and His word (answers). If anyone coming behind me into student ministry were to ask me, which would be shocking, what I would teach them about daily ministry these would be the only 3 things I would share with them. I would round it all out with the truth that like adults, students are not something that we can figure out. Not because they are bad, but because they are ever morphing. The moment that I sit back and think that I have them figured out I have just become negligent of my calling and useless to the King. Throughout His word God frees us from being Him when it comes to knowing people. Here is one example:
Lord, you have examined me
and know all about me.
You know when I sit down and when I get up.
You know my thoughts before I think them.
You know where I go and where I lie down.
You know everything I do.
Lord, even before I say a word,
you already know it.
You are all around me—in front and in back—
and have put your hand on me.
Your knowledge is amazing to me;
it is more than I can understand.
These 6 verses make me want to scream for joy when it comes to youth ministry. They make me want to hide in fear when it comes to being a man. I am not God… He is! He knows everything there is to know about us as His creation, His children and His friends. Because He knows all things, we are allowed to focus on what He has called us to do. Give our time, our concern and His answers to the students that He has entrusted to us for such a time as this. (That should make us tremble.)
I have a great pastor, seriously I mean great. He will probably read this for editing purposes because he is a grammar snob, so a little schmoozing never hurt anyone. All kidding aside I completely mean this. I have several reasons that I think this but I am most thankful for the lessons that he has taught me about ministry. These next 3 points I have watched him live and the Lord has greatly used him to point people to Jesus; which should be our only actual goal.
Your students don't need you but they need you. This is absolutely confusing, but it is nonetheless true. Your students don’t need you as a parent, a buddy, an answer or anything else that we so often fall victim to believing. They simply need you. They want to know that you are available when they come. Are you available to talk? Listen? Listen some more? You don’t need to understand, and you probably won’t. (Note: Beware saying, “I understand.” You don’t. We are not students in today’s world and therefore have no background to say these words. Remember you are not God.) They simply want to know that you care and that can only be displayed in your time spent with them. All the normal youth functions are great ways to do this. School lunches, Wednesday nights, after services, camps, and your home being constantly filled with students (make limitations on the last one for your family’s sake.) However I have found that the things that make more lasting impact are the intentional conversations with your students. Do you care about their latest break up or other school drama? Nope!! However do you care about them as they wade through the seemingly world ending issues that they face each day? This will lead to some majorly draining conversations about topics that you haven't thought about since they rocked your world back in the day. Give them the time that you wish someone had given you. It will pay dividends for the ministry, their relationship with the church, and more importantly their relationship with Jesus. Nothing will give you more credibility with your students than the time that you invest in them. So put the extra chairs and couches in your office that non verbally say, “Come in, I want you to sit, talk, and feel welcome.” God went into the garden to spend time with Adam and Eve because He desired to do so. It was intentional and that should be lived out each day by those of us who are called by Him to serve His students.
** Disclaimer: This can be dangerous. Approach with caution!
I am serious about this warning. We can become obsessed with our students. I don't mean in some creepy way but we can become so involved with our students’ issues that they absolutely become the main thing when they were never supposed to be that. The main thing is Jesus. To quote my father in law, “Keep the main thing, the main thing.” We are drawn to these issues because they scream out as a different story. We, as sinners ourselves, are drawn to lesser stories than Jesus. His Cross, and Him crucified. We are obsessed with other stories. If you don't believe me then look at the current television lineups. Reality shows. Other people’s stories that offer more than entertainment (if it can be called that) but instead a different story to get lost in. Your students don’t need you to live in their concerns, problems or anxieties with them. They need you to pray for them and point them to The Father that is already near to them in the midst of the chaos. You are already spending time with them and showing them that you are concerned, now do something about it. Take all of their concerns to the Father. Pray for your students by name everyday. It is amazing the amount of love that you will gain for them as you practice this discipline. This is perhaps one of the most rewarding yet invisible acts of the ministry. God knows what is best for HIS students, so entrust them to Him. Let Him do a mighty work among them. No one will see you praying for them. They may not even know. Could there be anything more important than, “boldly approaching the throne of grace” with the names of the students that He has entrusted to you? Just think of the company that you share. Romans 8:34 says that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. That means that when you take your students’ names to the Father that He is hearing from both Jesus and you. Now that is a dynamic duo. This will produce fruit but don't fall victim to looking for it. Take your/their concerns to the throne and let Him do a mighty work among them. You are not God!
I read books…a lot. If you enjoy reading then we are both part of a dying breed. People simply don't read anymore. I once asked my students what the last book they read was. I got answers along the lines of, “I have never read a full book” ; “I don't like to read.” “Reading is boring, give me the movie.” I was devastated for their sakes. When I read I often find myself reading books about youth ministry, today’s culture, and all of the other ministerial answer booklets that we are so drawn to. I have realized that they are of no help. By the time that most of them are published and delivered the teens have done that teen thing again and morphed into something different. As Peter so wisely wrote in his first letter, “The word of God endures forever.” Your students don't need wisdom from books. We would never think of taking a book that was written in the 70’s about students and using insights from it to teach our students today. Why is today’s information any more relevant? God’s word is vastly different. He knows His students, infinitely loves them, and desires for them to know Him. When giving answers to your students, give them His Word. We are often victims of believing our own press. This leads us to believe that we can offer answers to students that will have eternal impact on them. The only problem is that we are not eternal. If you want a good humbling session before you give counsel to a student or students, read Job 38 - 41 and put yourself into Job’s shoes. That will put a limit on your words and a damper on your self cheerleading. We have nothing to offer when it comes to advice. I know, I know, you want to tell them about your life experiences and how you walked through them. I am not saying that your life experiences aren’t valuable but seriously (Job 38 - 41) what do they compare to God’s experience and knowledge? I say this from a position of my counsel always being, “Don't do what I did, I was an idiot” (I should probably change that “was” to an “am”). Give your students counsel from the Word of God. The best thing that we can do is to share with them the truth that they can seek His Word for His answers and His ways. Not much job security in that but If your students learn to seek Him instead of you, then you have completed your task well.
In conclusion I want to thank you. I know that I may not know you but I truly mean that. I love students. I know that God has specifically called me to serve among them for His Name’s sake. I know that He desires for them to hear that they are not the future of the church but the current church and therefore have a major role to play in it today. I greatly appreciate each and every one of you that is in the work of student ministry; digging in the ditches and waiting on God to provide the water. Live free in knowing that we are not God, nor are we supposed to be. We are simply supposed to be His ambassadors among His students and to point them toward Him.