The phone rang at 1 AM. It was a mom desperate for advice after receiving a phone call that rocked her world. Her child had made a really poor decision and there was some serious fall-out from it.
This student loves Jesus. This student had shared Christ with friends and served at every chance possible. This student had sought out a mentor and met with their mentor regularly. I can personally vouch for this student’s faith, love for life, and desire to be used by the LORD in dynamic ways. But this one night, this student made a choice that didn’t reflect any of these truths.
The question for us as youth pastors is “How do we handle these moments?”
How do we handle the parent who is desperate to answer the, “Why did he or she do this?” question. How do we handle it when the student, who is facing the immediate guilt of his or her actions, looks at you as their mentor and says, “I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you.”
It’s in these "let down" moments, we have the opportunity to reflect truth and grace to everyone involved, even ourselves. Here’s what this looks like:
We are sinners. Regardless of how mature we are in our relationship with Christ, the reality is that we live in a broken world with a sin nature that gives in to temptation. Sometimes this truth is a hard reminder to parents and students. We tend to think that action = character. James 2 says that faith without action is dead, and rightfully so. We love seeing students live out their faith I ways that are visible. We can see how much they love the Lord. But when we forget what James says about temptation in chapter 1, there’s the shellshock of watching students who are strong in their faith make sinful choices.
Jesus isn’t done with us yet. These reality check moments remind us of the need for Jesus. Even in our broken world, the Holy Spirit desires to transform our hearts and minds. These moments allow us to remember that the Gospel isn’t just about our salvation when we die, but about our salvation while we’re alive. These moments, especially with students and parents that desire to follow Jesus, allow us to teach a deep scriptural truth in a practical and tangible way.
Our words and actions immediately following these types of circumstances can be Jesus-breathed or guilt-driven. Paul in 2 Corinthians 7 talks about guilt that leads to repentance. When we know we’ve messed up, we need to head toward repentance and allow God’s grace to lead us a new direction. When this student looked at me and said, “I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you” my reply was “No you haven’t.” I shared I thought the action was immature and foolish, but that more than anything I felt for them because of the guilt, pain, and regret they were already feeling. I told this student that I wasn’t disappointed. The light that lit up in this student’s eyes was a great moment for us.
I reminded the student that when we seek forgiveness from Jesus, it was already granted. But repentance is a crucial element in this moment. It also gave me a chance to help the parents be able to see how God’s grace will carry everyone through.
After 12+ years of student ministry, I’m still not surprised by these moments. The truth is that we all can confess we personally still have them. Sharing from our own mistakes and how we’ve pursued repentance and transformation, can allow the students we pastor a visual example that it can be done. But we better not be faking it! Jesus doesn’t need us blurring the picture of authentic submission to Him. (The world does that enough.)
We need to be able to stand with students and continue to call them with the transformation Gospel that allows the Kingdom of Heaven to be lived out on this earth now in a real and life altering way.