19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 19
In our state, the government has a test which high school students must pass in order to fulfill the graduation requirements. That test is quite the political football but the idea behind it is that there are certain things that our state feels that every student should have in their educational tool belt before we confer accolades on them. I can’t say one way or another if that’s what that particular test does, but I can say they are trying to ensure that Texas students have a base-line of things they learned.
In many businesses, when an employee leaves, the company has something called an exit interview. You know, the kind of thing where a boss or H.R. rep will sit down with a former worker and discuss how they were treated, what could’ve been done more efficiently, what was done well, what the terms of severance might be, etc. It’s a chance for the employer to find out what they do well with regard to the people they hire for the work they do as well as the chance for the person to let the company know why they aren’t staying.
(Side note: I had a seminary professor do this with people who left his church. He wrote a book about it, too. I think that should be a requirement for church leadership to execute exit interviews, but I’ve found that most people I’ve asked are polite but don’t tell you the whole story, so maybe it’s a time waste.)
Most of my student graduations take place some time this weekend…and if I were to give them an exit interview on what the primary elements of a walk with Christ that I was trying to teach them, I’d hope they’d come up with something of the neighborhood of the following:
First and foremost, Ephesians 2: 1-10.
“And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved!-and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”
The reason this one is first is that how we see ourselves affects how we live. For example, ever seen someone who views themselves as a guitar player? Sure, they’ll practice and listen to music and hang out with other guitar players and go to guitar shows/stores and maybe even dress like their heroes, but it’ll even affect the little things. I noticed this when a teen who’d recently picked up guitar started doing similar things but was looking for change for the soda machine and reached into his pocket and mixed in with assorted coins were two guitar picks. When I asked him about it, he said, “Well, you never know when you’ll have a chance to play a guitar, so I have these just in case.” He’d only been playing two weeks and his view of himself changed how he lived, even to what he put in his pockets.
And to know yourself, you have to know where you came from. You were dead. You needed life.
And to know yourself, you have to know your motivation for living. You respond to God’s love. His mercy. His grace.
And to know yourself, you need to know your new identity. A masterpiece. Well, that’s what the Greek word “workmanship” means, anyway. A work of art. (Imagine if we all viewed ourselves and others as God’s works of art how much different our church, and our world, would be.) In other places, we learn that we aren’t even citizens of this world…that this eternal life is lived as an alien and a stranger. In other places…well…Walvoord did a study on our new identity that is legendary, so I won’t even bother to go further. It’s been done better by better than I can give it.
And to know yourself, you need to know your purpose in life. Good works, which the God of the Universe has prepared for you.
It’s all there in that verse, and if a teen understands them at a fundamental level, it’ll affect them profoundly far beyond carrying picks in their pockets.
The second one is Galatians 5. The whole chapter is in view, but I’ll focus on the vv. 13-25:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.
Bob George, in his book Classic Christianity, uses the illustration of someone who was homeless and living that lifestyle–eating out of dumpsters, scrounging food. Then a restaurant owner catches him, brings him into his home, gives him a room, gives him a job, and lets him eat at his table with he and his family. Later on, the restaurant owner catches the former homeless man eating out of the dumpster again…and, of course, is incredulous. Why in the world would he choose to behave this way when an obviously more abundant life is offered? It doesn’t make sense. When I use this illustration with teens I use the phrase “drinking dumpster juice.” They remember that.
But we don’t have to drink dumpster juice. Sure, we can choose to if we want to…and we do. All too often.
But if we live a life in the Spirit…if we don’t quench Him…if we live the exchanged life offered by Him, then we won’t drink dumpster juice. And, just in case you aren’t sure what spirit-led exchanged life looks like, these verses provide a handy-dandy reference list built right in.
Finally, I emphasize Romans 12: 1-2.
“Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.”
Remember that movie The Sixth Sense? The one where that kid told his psychologist, “I see dead people?” Yeah. That one.
When you think of it, that’s pretty much an analogy for living the Christian life, except backwards. See, this little kid was dead but didn’t know that he was actually walking among the living. We’re living but walking among the dead.
I want my teenagers to realize that, because they are NOT of this world, they should try to see this world the way God sees this world. (Feel free to insert your favorite reference to The Matrix right here) When they look at the world the way God looks at the world…well, that’s worship. That’s prayer. That’s inside-out transformation, which will last. As opposed to behavior modification, which won’t. It fixes the problem at the very heart of the problem instead of putting a band-aid on it.
This means they have to think Truth, which requires infusions. Personal time in God’s Word. Sermons. Sunday School and C.E. opportunities, Mp3’s and podcasts…then the living and active breath of God can show us life among the dead…
…like when you start praying that your grade will be an accurate reflection of what you learned instead of praying for an “A.” (I can’t tell you how much my senior guys’ study loathes this one)
…like when you start praying that God will impress upon you that the girls around you are sisters in Christ and that the very hairs on their head are numbered by the Lord of Lords instead of as objects. (I can’t tell you how much my senior guys’ study gives lip-service to this one…but they grasp the concept, at least)
…like when you watch a show or movie and spot the lie.
…like when you get serious about what’s going on in Darfur or some other way to do justice and show mercy as you walk humbly with your God.
…like when you realize that the values of suburbia and the values of Scripture aren’t one in the same and you make real world decisions on that little piece of reality, well, let’s just say that the kid gets the lecture and the youth pastor gets the phone call on that deal.
…like when you begin to veiw your classroom, sport, job, home, driving habits, whatever, as a chance to be salt and light instead of the next thing on the checklist.
…like when you…well…
Remember the goal of our instruction from 1 Timothy 1:5?
In whatever form it takes at whatever moment in time you happen to be in.
The identity as a work of art.
The motivation of His mercy, love and grace.
The choice to live free in grace through the Holy Spirit.
And, today, as I wrap up 19 full years in student ministry, well, that’s my base-line standardized test. My own little exit interview.
The grade? The report?
I’m not qualified to do that. But I do know The Professor who will be doing the grading. That’s the 19th thing.
And that’s really all that matters when it comes down to it, isn’t it?
P.S. Thank you to all the students I’ve served over these last two decades. It truly has been an honor to serve you during that stage of your growth in Him. And, don’t worry, either. I’m not really going anywhere…just changing the focus of my ministry some. There will be many more students at CBC in the future (as long as CBC will have me, anyway), and some in my care will have less hair, energy and enthusiasm than my past student age-range…but they’ll have wisdom and experience, and if we can put the two in a blender of sorts, this should be a beautiful thing, and one that excites me beyond words.
P.P.S. Thanks to all The Diner readers who have patronized me during this three-week bit of indulgence. We’ll be back to business-as-usual tomorrow.