Have you ever battled with how much is too much when it comes to sharing your life story with teenagers? Have fear or shame kept you from revealing your true story to students? Learn how sharing your story in a raw and genuine way can bring freedom and empowerment to students…and you!
How much of our story are we really supposed to share? Do they really need the gory details? What if they take our failures as a license to try the same stupid things we did? What if the story gets twisted in the retelling?
I have spent most of my adult life wrestling with these questions. If you would have asked me ten years ago, when I was a young youth pastor, if I “shared my story” with the students I was serving, I would have said yes. But, what I learned in the journey is that I didn’t really share most of my story. Many of the pieces had been stuffed away, too shameful to talk about. I had a super sugarcoated version that briefly mentioned a few key sinful deeds and the painful consequences, I had a few key kingdom moments and a few good choices sprinkled in to create the appropriate mix of “testimony”. I am not saying I was trying to hide my true self, but much of the crafting of my story was rooted in fear. Fear of man, fear of misunderstanding, and fear of shame.
However, my God is a rock star when it comes to His ridiculous faithfulness. He has not given me a spirit of fear. Fear sucks and is paralyzing. Fear brings nothing but occasional and temporary behavior modification. Like our heavenly Father, we want our students to experience freedom from the fear and shame. We want young people super in love with their Maker, who are aware of the unfair, pathetic ways the enemy of their soul has tried to take them out of the game. Part of our joy as youth leaders is to help them discover their real story and how Jesus’ sacrifice for them has changed the game!
I am incredibly grateful for the theology and practice of the Kingdom of God that is the backbone to all that we do in life. As students begin to really look at their life, they need to understand that the “not yet” part of our Vineyard theological DNA is not just about “why occasionally our pal gets sicker after we’ve prayed”, but rather as a foundational understanding of the war in which we live. This is a war Jesus has won, is winning and will win, but we still fight until the day He returns. They need to know the tactics of the enemy and other thieves: to steal, kill, and destroy. They need to understand the “now” part of our Vineyard theological DNA that sees Heaven break into pain, that sees demons flee in Jesus’ name, and that sees addictions healed and families restored. We help them see that they are completely empowered to live transformed lives where they can face pain, face temptation, face failure and find God right in the middle of it. Oh, the tension. (Taking your crew through Romans can be super helpful during this process, too!)
My first real encounter with my story began about 5 years ago when I was with some leaders that walked in crazy freedom . They shared stories about pornography, and other sexual addictions and openly shared how Jesus had shown up in the midst and brought healing and freedom. I remember meeting with a group of young girls after this who began sharing stories about things that had been done to them as little girls that had messed with their sexual identity. Others started sharing about some of the family dynamics that had brought some addictive patterns into their own lives. All of a sudden, I found myself sharing some of the hidden portions of my childhood with them and the most insane thing happened…not a single one of the horrible, painful, shameful things I feared were felt. Instead I felt a freedom, freedom from fear, freedom from shame and freedom from this stupid tactic my enemy tried to use to take me out. The shame blanket was lifted as I began to see the truth of the dark strategies that had tried to take me out of the fight at age 7! Some of the leaders later walked me through the process of renouncing my own involvement in those situations, and I repented of the parts that were my choice.
When the Bible tells us in John 8:31 that the truth will set us free, it really should have put that in caps and exclamation points because I find it to be one of the most precious, liberating, healing and empowering truths ever. In this context, Jesus is referring to Himself…which is really the point of all of this. I’m not just talking about being brutally open and honest…though that’s part of it. Truth is being able to bring our whole story, all the good, the bad, the sad, the miraculous before Jesus and find our truth in Him and be free in Him!!
THE TRUTH (JESUS) WILL SET YOU FREE! Amen!!!!
So how do we help the students we minister to find Truth? How to we help them find their testimony? How can you guide them in the process? The best answer I can give to that question is to find your own story and then invite them to do the same. As you heal, lead others to heal; as you experience freedom, lead others to experience freedom. I found the courage to face some of my story when others modeled courage to me. I now try and do the same for the students around me. However, don’t make the mistake of having them look to you for their healing. In my journey, though leaders helped me, I am always running to Jesus, not them. As you help them discover their story, keep pointing them to the cross!
I am sure there are a million ways to go about this and I don’t claim to have “the way”, but I will share with you what I have done myself and have helped others do:
We draw two horizontal parallel lines on a piece of paper and between them write “life’s journey”. Then we begin to map out a timeline of major life-shaping moments. I kick my own story off by drawing an arrow coming from the top line and writing “age 4- invited Jesus to be in charge of my life”, I then draw an arrow from the bottom line and writing “age 7- at the sleepover the girls…” and I share the story of the first attempt I see in my own life of the enemy trying to mess with my sexuality. We then walk through the timeline and add the moments that we feel comfortable sharing. My own story is “age 4,7,10,12,16,21,29”. I share the painful parts and I share ways that I have seen heaven break in for my life. There is no “right” or “wrong”, just the story of our lives and the events that we feel shape us. (I do not share a lot of details each time. What I share is really based on how I feel the Spirit is leading and who my audience is. I am always praying as I share and often have others praying for me as well.)
We then stop and look at the bottom line and all the arrows that have come at our “life journey” from it. I like to talk through the fact that living in the tension of a “not yet” world means that some of the pain we feel is a direct assault from our enemy, other is the result of broken people who were acting out of pain, others are a result of our own poor choices, and then others are simply a mystery (like the death of a loved one or a natural disaster) but God meets us in the midst of ALL of it.
This is a great time to help your students understand repentance and the awesome power of confession! We can’t control the arrows that are going to come at us, but it’s what we do with the arrows and our actions that we are accountable for. I love helping students repent for any ways that they have partnered or agreed with the enemies plans and help lift the shame blanket that the enemy has tried to throw over them! We then take some time and ask God to show us how He has been with us during these moments. We ask the Lord to show us how He is forming Christ in us and redeeming the pain meant for evil.
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I remember spending time with one particular student that was having a hard time. He had arrows coming up from the bottom line with several attempts he had made to take his own life. He expressed his frustration as to not being able to see where God was in those moments. After listening to his frustration I asked him if it was okay if we prayed and asked God to tell him where He had been. I was nervous, but I knew he could not hear “truth” from me about how God had spared him, He needed to discover the truth of his story with Jesus for himself. I was overwhelmed when all of a sudden he began to smile and nod. As I asked him what he was hearing, he began to reveal some of the specific ways God had intervened and shown up in those very dark, painful moments. He then began adding arrows coming from the top line of God’s direct break-ins during his life.
Revelation 12 says:
10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
I love this verse because it shows that there is power in the testimony. When we help students step away from the sugarcoated version of their stories and help them kick shame in the head, we are creating radical followers of Jesus who have no illusion of perfection, but rather live in freedom to be authentic. I have found that this helps students to see God in the daily struggles. As their prayer requests, complaints, and pains come up, they are looking for how the arrows from heaven are going to meet them this time. How will Christ be formed in me this time? How will the Holy Spirit guide me this time? Father, what are you up to now?
In my own journey as a leader, I now love my story. It’s amazing to me how many of the details use to control me. Fear of man, fear of failure, and fear of being misunderstood. But the more I share my testimony, the more I feel my Father’s great love cast out the fear. The Truth has set me free…and sets me free…and sets me free! Love has set me free. The cross covers my whole journey, and I can walk delighting in Him and helping others do the same!
- HLI Moment: Discipleship For The Long Haul - May 10, 2017
- Lighting the Paths of Young People: HLI’s Commitment to Kingdom Theology - January 13, 2017
- “It’s amazing what can happen if no one cares who gets the credit” - April 18, 2013