In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. – Titus 2:7-8
Over the course of 20+ years of ministering through teaching, preaching, mentoring, and counseling people, I am often surprised by what I can remember about the ministry that has taken place. I am equally surprised when I run into a student, from days gone by, who retells a life-changing story that involved me, and they do so with precision that I would never have remembered.
Students and leaders alike will recount some event, some encounter, some interaction that is forever burned into their brain about the way I said or did something in the van on the way to summer camp or in a restaurant waiting for our meal or when we sat around in the shade recovering from a morning of construction work on a 110 degree day. I don’t even remember doing and saying some of the things I have been associated with, but my former students seem to have total recall. Perhaps I have a poor memory, or maybe just too many encounters to keep track of… probably a little of both.
Oddly, some of the things I remember most are not sermons or powerful teaching series that we explored in small groups. They are much like those the students recall, of moments when we were laughing together or crying together. Or moments when I made a mistake or learned something about real life ministry.
Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. – Hebrews 13:7
Years ago, a group of high school students along with a few adult leaders sat in a large circle discussing a Bible passage I do not remember during the mid-week student ministry gathering. I have always been Socratic in my teaching style, so others have always had the freedom to interupt me and ask a question, and if they did not I would generally ask questions to make sure what I was teaching was being absorbed in some form or fashion. I remember where I was sitting in the room and where she was sitting when a freshman girl interrupted me and said, “What you are talking about is like Buddhism’s teaching on balance or the middle way!”
This young lady had only recently started coming to our church at the invitation of a friend, and she had not said much up until this point. I was excited that she weighed in on the discussion. But immediately after she said this, her friend (not the one who invited her) rebuked her with, “It’s NOT like Buddhism, that is stupid!”
I was horrified! She only spoke once in the 3-4 weeks we had known her and now she may never speak up again. “Good job, Christian kid trying to protect us all from the mere mention of that false religion.” I did not say that, but what I did say was… “Wait a second, it is not stupid to express an idea or even to liken a truth that is taught in the Bible with the teachings of another religion or philosophy.” It could have been really awkward and painful, but it turned into a beautiful moment that led this young visitor to gain confidence to ask more questions, which ultimately led to her committing her life to Christ. 9 months later we were together on a mission trip and it was one of the greatest joys of my life to see this teenager sharing her faith with others on the other side of the planet.
So, why am I sharing this story with you?
Solid theology is vital. Making disciples requires a firm foundation of Biblical teaching and preaching. Winning students to Christ does not happen without loving, godly mentoring. The size and location of your meetings… the availability of better sound and lights… the amount of time you spend crafting meaningful sermons and small group questions… the average age of your volunteers… the size of your annual youth ministry budget… none of these are going to be what students remember in a few years. What they will remember is how your faith influence your life… your decisions, your actions, your responses.
Design the best youth room you can on your budget… be creative! Invest time in prayer and study to make those teachings as powerful as they can be! Recruit leaders your students are inspired by and who look up to! Just don’t think for a second that God is limited in His ability to change lives in spite of your best or worst efforts in these areas. And don’t discount for a moment that your love for Him and your students and your availability to share your life with them has the power to change their lives forever!
After washing His disciples feet, Jesus said to them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” – John 13:15
May your life be an example… may you lead them to know and trust and lay it all down for Jesus! Even when they get your order wrong at Taco Bell… especially when they get your order wrong!