In a world where students are rewarded for mediocrity I firmly believe that it is time for the church to set itself apart by expecting more from our students! If Jesus could change the world using mostly teenagers (see Matthew 17 for a clue as to why I believe He did hint only Jesus and Peter owed taxes and to owe taxes you had to be over 20) than why do so many youth leaders, parents, pastors, and students themselves expect so little from students? I confess I was once a leader who expected to little from students.
I think there are some basic expectations we need to place on the students in our care!
- Expect them to be growing in Christ! The Lord calls us to be maturing in Him from the first day we experience the sweet salvation and regeneration offered to us through His atoning death on the Cross. There is no “holding period” or age requirement for growth, rather it is an immediate expectation placed on all believers (Luke 14:27)! We need to expect that our students will grow in the Lord daily by practicing the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, tithing, worship, and service! It is essential that we provide them with opportunities to be held accountable in these areas and that we offer training to help them succeed.
- Expect them to be serving Christ’s cause in the Church! Along with this immediate growth requirement comes an immediate call to contribute to the Body life of the Church. We need to expect them to assume their position as ministers alongside and for the Body. (Romans 12:3-8) The longer we treat them like the future with no visible and viable present role the more their spiritual muscles will atrophy.
- Expect them to be sharing Christ with the world! Disciples of Christ are to immediately begin the kingdom work of evangelizing the lost while creating new disciples of the King. Our students need to know that their work as evangelists is a present work not a future work (Matthew 28:16-20). Statistics show that the vast number of people who come to Christ do so before they turn 18 and yet we often seem content to hold back these peer evangelists from the work of the Kingdom that He has called them to! Let’s release them and watch the Spirit Move!
- Expect them to be leading their own ministry! Very few churches have women leading the Men’s Ministry or single moms leading the Marriage Ministry and yet many churches appear content to have only adults lead the student ministry. The reasons are varied and I believe almost always stem from pure motives, however we need to seriously re-evaluate this thinking and challenge our students to step in and be the real leaders of their ministry (1 Timothy 4:9-15; 2 Timothy 2:22). Why not simply expect them to follow the exact same rules as the adult ministries? Make them accountable but give them ownership. Shepherd and train them, as we hopefully do with ministry leaders of all ages, but let them set the vision, agenda, and mission as they take all the human responsibility for ministry.
- Expect them to expect more of themselves! Finally, let’s stop allowing them to expect so little from themselves (Romans 12:1-2) Challenge them to defy the odds, challenge them to set lofty goals as they set high expectations for themselves and their peers. Allow them the freedom to fail while attempting the seemingly impossible plans they dream up for His glory. Encourage them to stop settling for compromise in their academic lives, their home lives, and their spiritual lives. Hold them accountable to His standards of excellence as we watch them grow deeper and more committed to Christ than those around them.
As Carly a 14-year-old student minister in our church recently stated: “There’s a lot of expectation, even a sort of pressure, that both adults and our peers put on us. I think, however, that this pressure is necessary. If no one expected anything out of us, then we wouldn’t strive to meet those expectations, and we wouldn’t grow. We wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes that we make. Living up to those expectations is a very rewarding feeling. To know that you are making a difference and really doing something for (and alongside) God feels great.” And more importantly Carly and her peers are able to experience and realize that they have a current role in the church not merely a future role and this realization puts them in a position to succeed as they graduate and move out of our sphere of influence!
Expect much and I promise you will not be disappointed! Hand ownership, not just quasi leadership, back to the students and I promise you will see an explosion in your church. Trust your students to own their ministry and you will change His church!