It’s that time of year again, school awards, sports awards, and more awards for teens. All of those who care about teens will sit in a chair for what will seem to be the longest hours of your life. Parents will bite their nails hoping their child will be recognized in some way. There will be accolades based on merit for those who have worked their tails off and get awards based on a GP, or for the most stellar athlete. Then there are those awards like the “principal’s award,” or “most improved” or something of the like that are purely subjective. Schools try to pretend they aren’t. They will tell you these are based on a combination of grades, involvement and recommendations of teachers. It will be said these are the most deserving in the bunch.
Yet, what if these awards are really given to the students who are the most capable of being likable? Think about it. These students are usually not “trouble makers,” they don’t “rock the boat” in any way, they give answers, show up on time, and are pretty easy to get along with. It seems to me there is a group of students who always seem to fall through the cracks. They may do well in school, but not the best. They may be a great kid, but not so “great” they stand out to teachers. Somehow the school looks at them with an eye that says, “Is there anything outstanding about you?”
Unfortunately I watch vibrant students from Junior High lose their luster because they believe the lie that they are simply “average.” It isn’t true of course. The Lord has a plan picked out just for them, their name is written on the palm of His hands and He formed them right from the start with greatness in mind. Sure the world may hold a different definition of success than Christ does, but the last thing the Creator has in mind for any person is “average.” I think part of our role as youth workers is to help students know that the lack of a trophy on awards night does not mean they should settle in to the status quo.
How do we do this?
Choose Unlikely Leaders:
The Bible is riddled with stories of leaders who didn’t belong in their position. Moses stuttered, Paul was a murderer, David was a shepherd and the baby of the family, and Timothy was too young. The list goes on and on and on. Our tendency can be to choose student leaders who are leading the way everywhere else too. We pride ourselves that the captain of the football team can be a powerhouse for God as well. Yet, is there a diamond in the rough who would love to step up? Is there a student who faithfully shows up, serves, and is trying to pursue the Lord that you need to hone in on? When God picked David as the next King, Samuel the prophet was told, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Let’s do the same…
(Note: This is not to say we also go find the troubled kid and try to make them a leader to get them out of their “issues.” Again, look at the heart, if there is a desire in place to lead foster it.)
Celebrate The Masses:
Every year we have an awards ceremony where each student gets an award. We base it on a character trait where we see Christ in the student. For example there might be, “The Most Bold” award. In life there are many times when a student will get to sit through the school awards thinking, “That will never be me.” When my youngest was in 4th grade her teacher did this. She won the, “Natural Leader Award.” She is 13 now and just told me the other day, “I know I am a leader, do you know how I know? When I was in 4th grade my teacher gave me that award that told me I was a natural leader.” You have no idea how much taking the chance to publicly speak truth and life into a teen will impact them. If you don’t want to have an awards ceremony is there a way you can publicly acknowledge different students throughout the year in a variety of ways? How will you ensure those that are too quiet, awkward or average can get a moment of celebration?
Take Back Every Moment:
Make sure you look for a time when you can speak the truth that Christ offers into a student. I have learned that many times the winners of those awards suffer under a weight of perfectionism. They are petrified of being “less than.” The funny thing is they work hard for the award and still deal with deep insecurity. Create a culture that looks for the moments students are feeling weak, where you can tell them what God really sees. Every teen needs to be reminded of Jesus’ thoughts about them, often.
Unfortunately we end up in a cycle when we don’t root for the underdog. Only a handful can be the best, so the rest settle into apathy. There are too many years of disappointment in play, and they need to guard their hearts. As youth workers we see the apathy and start saying things like, “Teens are just this way.” Not everyone wins a trophy, but we all have a chance at greatness if we choose a life with Jesus. Let’s start telling the students the same thing.