Throughout Scripture, God uses imperfect losers in incredible ways, something that I think He still does today.
In fact, considering that I am in youth ministry and that God has somehow managed to use me despite all my weaknesses and imperfections, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this truth is still true today.
Despite this, for some reason, I’ve struggled in the past to apply this same truth to my students.
Oh sure, I certainly allow for the fact that God can use my students during various service projects and mission trips but up until this year, I’ve been reluctant to believe that God can use my students to do the up front kind of teaching typically reserved for me, the youth pastor.
While I’ve dreamed for years about having a student led retreat, I’ve routinely used convenient excuses to put this endeavor off.
“My students aren’t ready to lead that kind of content”. “It would be too much work for me to have students lead a retreat session.” “I never want to set my students up for failure so I’ll wait until I’m sure they’ll succeed.” And my personal favorite, “My students don’t know enough about their faith yet to lead a retreat. They’re not spiritually mature enough to help others grow in their faith.”
While I still believe that some of these statements articulate legitimate concerns, this fall, one of the experts that I interviewed for an article I was writing challenged me to rethink this when he talked about how important it is for youth to formally teach other youth in various youth ministry settings. According to him, when we allow youth to do this, both the youth who’s leading the material as well as those who are listening learn more. Why? Because in preparing to teach something, a youth has to learn it for themselves and take ownership of it. In hearing the material, youth always listen more when it’s peer to peer rather than adult to youth.
Not long after hearing this expert, I scheduled a discussion at our youth ministry on world issues, something that many of our kids were eager to talk about. As I began to think through this particular discussion, I contacted Katie, a high school senior and a member of my leadership team, to ask her what sort of world issues she’d like to learn about.
Her response shocked me.
She mentioned several issues and then without my asking, calmly said, “You know, I could lead that one if you want.”
With the words of that pesky expert ricocheting around my brain, I bit back my initial panic, swallowed all my concerns, and restrained the part of me that is naturally a control freak and said, “Sure, that’d be sweet!”
Over the next month and a half, Katie worked to prepare to lead our discussion on world issues, regularly seeking me out for various pieces of advice and to ensure that what she was planning was OK.
The day before her scheduled discussion, we went through the night at length, in detail. As we did, I was amazed at the time and thought that Katie had put into preparing for the night. I was also blown away by her passion for the topic. In response, I gave her a few suggestions and a lot of encouragement.
Tuesday night, Katie led our discussion on world issues. She presented our group with information on child prostitution in Cambodia, the AIDS crisis in Haiti, and the slums of Kenya; linked these issues to Scripture passages about justice and compassion; and then facilitated a discussion about whether or not we, as Christians have a duty to respond and if so, what our youth ministry can do to make a difference regarding these issues.
I’ll admit: The night was rough. There were some technical difficulties; Some poorly phrased questions; A little too much talk and not enough discussion; And some awkward silences.
Yet despite those things, the night was far from a failure. In fact, I’d call it a grand success.
Katie’s peers hung on her every word, stayed focused and on subject during the discussion, and because the challenge to do something about these problems came from one of their own, they left the night with plans to act.
Katie left the night glowing, basking in the praise from both the adult leaders in the room and her friends; Feeling good about being able to challenge her peers to put their faith into action and the fact that they actually came up with two tangible things to do as a result; And having learned far more about these issues and their relationship to her faith from having taught the material than she ever would have had I taught her the material.
Though we still haven’t had a student led retreat, after Tuesday night, I think that such a thing is more within our grasp than I ever thought.
After all, if God can use me to teach youth, despite all my weaknesses and imperfections, then why can’t he use youth to teach each other?
As 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”