I believe one of the greatest mistakes that we can make within our student ministries is underestimating not only where our students are, but also where they could be one day when it comes to their understanding of Scripture and the Christian worldview.
I was reminded of how great our students’ potential can be when one of our volunteers whose day job is to teach high school students math was confused when one of our students began to explain to him some sort of math theory. I found myself cowering away at their conversation that required an entire page of numbers, letters and symbols to explain.
At City Church, we have dozens of volunteers working with middle school and high school students every week, and I must admit that our students challenging our older volunteers is somewhat of a regular thing around our ministry. This is not a knock to our incredible volunteer team, but rather an indicator of how much potential our students have.
As you read this there are high school students, some as early as 10th grade, who are taking college-level courses through dual enrollment. Many middle school students are practicing pronouncing vocabulary words in their second language, soon to be followed by high-level math problems. If you are not yet convinced of how impressive some of our students’ course loads can be, I suggest that you try tutoring some middle school students in math, or helping them in their geography class.
As if all that wasn’t enough, they also are well-educated and updated about technology, and much more interested in things like politics and major world issues than we often give them credit.
Here’s what I believe is one of the most pressing questions in student ministry today: “Why would we place a low bar where we claim it matters the most?”
Our students are being challenged and engaging the world in so many areas and ways, but what about their faith? Do the high expectations they experience in their academics and athletics get left behind at our church doors?
I believe that the church should be holding the highest bar for our students, and by that I do not mean a service or program, but the body of Christ. As parents, pastors and peers, we should help them press on to more.
Here are three important ways we can raise the bar with our students.
• Have regular conversations about where they are at in their faith. I am all for talking about sports, movies and the latest Netflix series with students. I believe that it is important to have light conversations over common ground. I also strongly believe that as leaders in students’ lives we are called to bring the conversations to more than last night’s football game and the latest pop-culture buzz. Ask students about their faith, beliefs, struggles and doubts. Be ready to listen and help guide them through Scripture that informs our lives. This might not come easily to us and might require time, but few things can be more important in their lives than people helping them evaluate their faith.
• Don’t shy away from “grown-up” topics. We do our students injustice when we shy away from topics like politics, relationships, finance and work. It is important that they hear about these areas in a God-honoring and honest way. Our faith and what we believe to be true in Christ informs every area of our lives, and we cannot expect them to magically make all the connections once they turn 18. Be conscious of their age, but help them see how the Gospel impacts every area of our lives, even the areas that they do not fully feel or understand.
• Hold them accountable. When I was in school, my teachers held me accountable to turn in my homework, my coaches held me accountable in the weight room, and even at my part-time job I was accountable for my work. I am always amazed at how often we are slow to hold our students accountable. Don’t be afraid to have regular accountability checks with the students you lead. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions or have the hard conversations. It is often the people who challenge us the most, and hold us accountable, that impact us the greatest.
It is a privilege to work with students during some of the most formidable times of their lives. I hope that we never grow numb to the reality that God uses people such as us to help shape and guide their lives. Let’s take what matters the most, and not be afraid to raise the bar high. There is too much at stake.
Hunter Leavine is youth pastor at City Church Tallahassee, Fla. He graduated from Florida State University with a degree in creative writing and is currently working on his master’s degree from Midwestern seminary. Twitter: Hunter_Leavine. Email: email@example.com.