The Model Student

So.. I’m a youth pastor. With that comes a particular set of preconceived notions, at least for a lot of people. There is an archetype for who and how youth pastors are and how they act.

Annoying t-shirts.

Frosted tips [ok, in like.. 1999].

Bro-ey guilt-inducing talk: “yo, Jen, you should totally swing youth group tonight. Jesus is gonna be there, so, I mean..”

Ok, so maybe that’s somewhat of a start. Now let’s think for a second about the purpose of ministry that is specific to young people. We need to ask the question, “what is our goal?” 

I’ve got some answers to that, but sometimes what happens in my brain is I imagine all the various ways a deep and resonant faith in Jesus can affect someone’s life. So, to allow you in on it, I created a diagram of what sometimes comes to mind as I think about work with students here in San Francisco.

First, the “Model Student.”

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Next, the “Actual Student.”

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You have now entered my brain. Thanks for coming. If you’re curious where this is going, finish up. If not, have a quick laugh if it tickles you then find something else to read. 

Ok, so there are some really impactful ways a genuine and authentic faith in the risen Jesus can change a person. I have written not a few blog posts on how my faith intersects with my life, and Christian practice is a subject that looms large in our culture.

Now, the point: is it really this simple? 

These silly comics point to actual truths, but I think what is most ridiculous is the thought that a model person or model student is actually as pure/spiritually wonderful as the comics suggest. In other words…

I’m afraid we’re all a bit more complicated. 

Right? I mean, come on. Yes, there are spiritual greats, there are saints. But each of us is internally mixed and our loves aren’t quite 100% pure. Do we all genuinely love our neighbors-and our enemies-as ourselves, like Jesus teaches? Or do we secretly harbor quiet judgment about folks who think [or vote?] differently than we d0?

People of faith fall into this trap.

People without faith do too.

And what’s the difference? I’d advocate that Christian faith does a pretty good amazing job at revealing the honest truth about our true selves. We’re all failing to fully love others-neighbors and enemies-as God loves us. We’re all failing to fully care for creation in all the ways we can [and yes, the Toyota Prius uses fossil fuel. And so do fully electric cars-they have to charge, after all].

The honesty about how we really are at the deepest level reveals that we are all a mixed bag. We do the right thing, we do something that compromises our values. We make progress, we relapse. This is the journey of faith.

But that Christian honesty is backed up with an action plan: repentance, forgiveness, and a lot of grace for when we don’t measure up to the high standard of loving God/others deeply.

God’s grace, shown in Jesus, floods the scene. Jesus models forgiveness to the folks gathered at his execution: “father forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing [Luke 23:34 MSG].”

Following Jesus is no path for the faint of heart. Yes, Jesus comforts-but he challenges us too. That’s where my little “model student” diagram falls hopelessly short. All the things are important, but I left out the deepest aspects of faith: love for God and love for neighbor/enemy.” After all, you can’t really separate those two concepts anyway. 

That is what I yearn for in the model student.

And that is what I, though I so often fail to embody it, strive for as well.

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