Let the students lead…
Claire is a sophomore in my ministry. Last year, she and her mom bought tickets to the Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas—yes, it was that concert. A gunman in a hotel room above the concert venue opened fire, killing 59 people. Claire and her mom survived the shooting, but could not escape the trauma they experienced as they scrambled for cover amid the chaos and death. Claire is obviously a different girl now—those few moments fighting for her life in Las Vegas continue to shape her.
And I’m grateful to admit that she’s become my teacher in this season of ministry.
“God doesn’t need me to be an easy-answer person—he needs me to show up, be quiet, and listen.”Click to tweet
Claire is helping me learn what it means to lead teenagers through trauma, and she’s opened me to student leadership possibilities I’d never considered before. To lean into what Claire is teaching me, I’ve had to first do three hard things…
1. Swallow My Pride—I’ve never come alongside a teenager who’s survived a mass shooting, until now. All of this is virgin territory for me, and my years of ministry experience didn’t prepare me well. I’ve had to admit that I don’t know what to do. Of course, Claire has needed my focused attention, but what else could I do? Why does merely showing up in her life feel like it’s just not enough?
As I reached out to her and her family, I heard myself say “I don’t know…but I am here” over and over. Youth ministry culture has taught us to perpetually prove ourselves—to show that we are the experts. I’ve had to learn to let my pride go, to quell my desire to prove myself, and help in whatever authentic way I can. And that means, just showing up…
2. Suppress My Easy Answers. Over coffee, Claire raises questions and doubts about God because of what she’s experienced. She tells me that worship isn’t easy for her anymore—she wrestles with songs that declare God’s power. Since I’m already insecure about my ability to help her, it’s hard to not offer up easy answers to her questions. And there are easy answers to the questions she’s raising—solid theological truths to hold onto in the middle of pain. But this is what I’ve learned; Claire doesn’t need these answers right now. She needs to wrestle with her pain and her questions. She needs an adult who isn’t going to silence her questions with quick answers.
I believe in God’s power, so I need to trust that he can reveal himself and the truths that Claire needs, when she needs them.
3. Refrain From Spouting My Opinions. You won’t be surprised to learn that Claire is now passionate about gun control. In solidarity with her peers, she’s participated in walkouts, protests, and forums. These responses make some people uncomfortable, and opinions on these divisive issues are all over the board. Yes, I would love for Claire to use her leadership skills to run our Welcome Team, but that’s not what’s moving her to act. I feel such joy when I witness her using her voice to lead others—she and so many others are leading in ways that are not traditional to youth ministry. I can’t help but think that the world is going to be a better place because of them. I will not slow them down with my own ministry agenda.
Every adult ministry leader needs to hear this… Let the students lead.
This article originally appeared in the recently released Special Discipleship Edition of Group Magazine. To request your free copy, click here.