Recently, my family and I went to Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA. If you have never been to a Great Wolf Lodge before, check them out as it’s a great family place. Basically, it’s an indoor water park attached to a hotel! It is pretty amazing and extremely exhausting.
While were there, I had an interesting experience with my 3 year old that lead me to come to 2 conclusions about youth ministry. She reminded me how important it is to be walking with our students regularly and the value of reinforcement.
Walking with our Students
My 3 year old is very adventurous and bold. She loves to try new things and can be very independent from my wife and I, which as you can imagine, can be very heart-wrenching for a parent. However, when we got to the water park inside the Lodge, she immediately froze up and didn’t know what to do with all the water, slides and things to do. She became very timid and scared on taking a step in any one direction. We eventually decided to go to the kiddie slides. When we got there, she did not want to go down, even though she had been on those types of slides before. So, I showed her what to do by going down the slide myself and waited for her to come afterwards. She was still very hesitant, but eventually sat down on the slide, ready to go. But, before she would allow herself to go down the slide she made sure that I had my arms out at the end of the slide, ready to catch her. She came down, I caught her and she said, “Let’s do it again”! So, we did it again, and again, and again, til, eventually, she didn’t need me to help her anymore. She was fully comfortable doing it herself.
This act shows the importance of us, Youth Pastors and Head Youth Leaders, walking through life with our students. As their leaders, we are in charge of presenting Christ to them and in case you didn’t know, that is not one of the top 3 most popular things to do as a tween or teenager. Therefore, we have our work cut out for us. But, if we walk with our students by building relationships with them and showing them how to live their life for Christ through our example, we can help them know and understand the great value of being in a relationship with Him. My daughter was scared to death to go down the slide by herself, but because she saw me go down it and she trusted me to catch her when she came down, that helped her overcome that fear.
The same can be true when we walk with our students and help show them how to live for Christ by the way we live our lives and do things. Christ models this clearly in Matthew 4:19 when he says to come follow him, for he will make them fishers of men. How do you think he made them fishers of men? Do you think he relied on their great fishing ability to hook men and women? No, he helped them become fishers of men by walking through life with them and modeling how to live their lives. He didn’t just teach them, he showed them how to do it. We need to be walking through life with our students and modeling Christ to them.
Reinforcement is Key
The very next day, I had a similar experience with my daughter which revealed another powerful truth about youth ministry. As we came into the water park, my daughter decided she wanted to go down those slides again. I thought to myself, “Great, she’s going to be able to go down by herself and all I have to do is watch and make sure something drastic doesn’t happen”. Well, that’s not exactly what happened. As soon as we got to the stairs to go up the slide, she became scared and timid again. It was like she never went on the slide before! I quickly became very frustrated with her because I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t go down. But, non-the-less, I walked her up and went down the slide again to show her it was ok. Then, before she would come down, I had to hold out my arms to catch her, just like I had to do the day earlier. When she came down, she realized how fun it was and then pick up right where we left the day before – not needing my help to go up and down the slides, just be an observer.
My daughter had completely forgotten what it meant to go down that slide and the fun she had until she experienced it again. She needed that joy reinforced. In the same way, our students tend to forget the joys and benefits of following Christ on a daily basis. It is a tough world we live in today where trials and struggles happen daily. When we experience those trials, it can zap out all we know to be true about Christ. It’s not suppose to happen that way, but depending on the trail, our students can become very discouraged and forget about all Christ has done for them and others.
Therefore, we have to keep on reminding them and reinforcing the material and experiences they have. Christ is the perfect model of this as well. Throughout the gospels, Christ taught numerous times on love and service. Then, in John 13:1-17, he reinforced his teaching with actions. He showed just how important these teachings were by reinforcing them later. Spiritual highs and lows will come and go for the students. But, if we are there affirming them and reinforcing the greatness of God, they have the opportunity to never forget the power of the living God and benefit greatly!
TAKE A MINUTE and…
- Examine who you are walking with. Which students are benefiting from spending time with you ? If you are not currently investing in any students, make a list of students you would like to begin to invest in and seek to begin to build those relationships.
- How are you reinforcing material learned and giving your students experiences that will encourage them and help them constantly know the joys and benefits of following Christ? If you are not currently reinforcing ideas, now, with the of school here, it is a great time to review and reinforce ideas and teaching from earlier in the year.
Questions, experiences or thoughts? Feel free to post them here so we can be encouraging each other.