I don’t want my students to stay my students forever. I want them to leave.
I have the awesome privilege of serving in full-time student ministry… And perhaps, my initial statement made you question my ability or commitment to my role. Rest assured, I love my students. I adore them. I cheer through long track meets in Georgia heat for them. I leave my call volume on high at night just in case one of them needs something.
But even still, I don’t want my students to stay my students forever.
I don’t measure the success of ministry solely on attendance. I admit it feels good to have a large crowd to preach to, and I like it when there are enough voices singing during worship that my own gets drowned out… But that’s not the goal. My goal is to encourage and equip the students in our ministry, so when the time comes, they are ready to leave.
I want them to become smarter than I am.
I want them to have greater experiences than me - both, spiritually and worldly.
I want the best for them.
I'm not content teaching them only enough for them to earn a passing grade in the faith. I want them to test me. I want them to fact check me. I want them to study, worship, pray and dream on their own. To me, success looks like young people who are eager to experience God and understand His purpose for their lives.
It weighs on me when graduating seniors stay in the youth group longer than they feel comfortable due to a precious loyalty to me. It doesn’t hurt me when they leave, because when they are no longer my students, they become my friends, my peers.
We can serve together.
We can learn from each other.
And that is really special.
I love learning from my students. Even the kindergarteners have something to share. There’s an innocence to how young people view Scripture. It’s not yet tainted with adult stressors. My glasses are fogged with theology classes, life experience, and the memory of battles I hardly survived. Their glasses are clear. They are ready and eager to see God move. They want to understand Him more. Don’t discredit young people for their lack of age. We could all learn from them.
One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.
When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”
Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.
I am confident that no matter how talented of a leader you may be, we’d all easily agree that none of us are better, wiser, or more gifted in leadership than Jesus.
Yet, His time was not too important to spend with children.
Jesus embraced the children and became angry when His own disciples didn’t understand that mission. He didn’t welcome the children to boost His attendance or to strategically diversify the crowd. He welcomed them because He loved them.
His sermons weren’t designed to make Himself sound more intellectually proficient. In fact, the opposite is true. Jesus famously taught in parables - short stories that were relevant to the culture and time of His followers. He used analogies, stories and pop culture references to help the people understand what He was talking about… and when they still didn’t get it… He took the time to sit down with them in private and clear their confusion. Jesus’ wisdom was and will always be unmatched. Yet, He communicated so simple-minded people (like me) would be able to understand His message.
No one can apply a lesson to their life without first understanding it.
No one can teach others if they don't understand it themselves first.
Jesus knew that His earthly ministry was short. He was well aware that the 36 months of His public ministry were quickly counting down and His students needed to be ready to go out on their own. I imagine Jesus became so frustrated with their ignorance because He was trying to train them for excellence.
My goal is to imitate Jesus in every way, but especially in the way He taught. Children’s ministry, youth ministry - they’re short. If I’m lucky, I will have twelve years to teach a student before they move on toward something greater. But the time on my clock often runs out much faster than that.
Parents, if you're lucky, you'll have eighteen years to teach your child(ren) before they move on toward greater things. Be mindful of how much time is left on your home-ministry clock.
Perhaps if I can manage to imitate Jesus at all, when the time comes, my students will be prepared to leave. They will be ready to travel to the ends of the earth sharing the good news, remaining faithful and making the most of the time that’s left on their own ministry clock.
I love my students, but I don’t want them to stay my students forever.
I want them to leave because they have a purpose to complete.