As Youth Pastors, we know we are called to the process of discipleship. This process takes many forms, but one of my favorites is mentoring students one-on-one. There is no substitute for the ministry and relationships built through long-term mentoring.
When I began mentoring students, I made the mistake of only choosing the “cream of the crop,” or the student in whom I saw the greatest leadership potential. While we should rally students who have a high ceiling when it comes to leadership, we actually do ourselves a disservice when we only choose these students.
When you only meet with high capacity, leader oriented, Christian students you can lose sight of how to reach and teach the average teenager. You almost get tunnel vision and lose sight of the true struggles and hesitations held by the greater majority of your students. The goal of youth ministry is not to find and equip the elite, the goal of student ministry is to help students, wherever they may be on their faith journey, to take that next step toward Jesus
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”1 Peter 5:1-5
Here are a few students you need to seek out and begin to mentor:
1. The non-believer.
Find a student in your ministry who you see struggling with this whole church and Jesus thing. This student will most likely enjoy hanging out with you, but will feel uncomfortable when you turn the conversation toward spiritual matters. Engage this student in conversation concerning their thoughts, views, and struggles in belief. Ask them about the struggles and beliefs of their friends and the messages they are getting at home. Chances are you will discover roadblocks to faith you didn’t know existed.
2. The new believer.
These are usually the students we see move from zeal to frustration when they realize the cost of discipleship. This is a pivotal time in the life of a Christian and the decisions made during this time will direct these students toward cultural Christianity, or a life of obedience and faith. These students will remind you how to talk about faith at its most basic level. This is the student that will ask to study the book of Revelation. This is the student with whom you will have the most frustration. While you have no expectations from the non-believer and high expectations from your student leaders, your new believers will bounce back and forth between ah-ha moments and completely missing the point.
3. The average Joe.
The average Joe, or Josephine, will remind you of the struggles of the middle class. While striving for that next level of spiritual maturity, these students seem to continually fall victim to idolatry. Just when Jesus seems to be preeminent in their lives, something will come along and steal that place of prominence. The scary thing is that many of our average Joe’s have no clue that their object of worship has been replaced. These students attend church weekly, are involved in multiple church activities, but place their value and worth in activities and people other than Jesus. These are the students with whom you will have to clarify priorities. These are the students who need to see all of life as worship.
4. The student leader.
The student leader will remind you that there is hope and that all hope is not lost! This is the student who will help you lead and rally others around the Gospel. Your student leader will be hungry for knowledge and passionate about spiritual disciplines. The only drawback to your student leader is that they might not understand why others struggle so much with putting Jesus first. These are the students who show up at church to help and hang even when there is nothing going on. These are the students who will push you to know your stuff and be prepared.
If you are like me, you can picture the students in your ministry who fit the above description. My encouragement to you would be to engage a student from each category. Your ministry and teaching will be enriched through the time you spend with each of these students.
Header image provided through creative commons by Lafayette College.