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What Are We REALLY Calling Students to Be?

Recently, I watched my son’s final JV soccer game. The game was intense, and during the second half a player on his team got into it with their opponent, and in the fight for the ball, he knocked the other guy to the ground. Obviously, neither player was happy about it, but the player on my son’s team was especially angry and moved to fight the player on the ground. His teammates jumped in to stop him and it caused a huge scene as they tried to keep him from physical contact that would have likely cost the team a red card—and forced them to play a man down for the remainder.

In the midst of the stink this all caused, the coach decided it would be best to pull his player and give him some time on the bench to calm down. This is not the first time this has happened with this player, and he makes a lot of spur of the moment anger decisions. I was about 10 feet behind the bench when I watched one of the coaches walk over to the offending player. He only said two sentences to him. He got down in his face, looked him straight in the eye, and said in a firm and calm voice,

“Seriously, you were going to kick a man while he was on the ground? Son, that’s not leadership.”

I kept waiting for him to tell him something else, but that was it. He didn’t move away for a few seconds, as if he was waiting for the words to sink in and be fully processed. But I honestly don’t think the player was even remotely thinking, “This is how I lead.” Which is why this was pure genius. I absolutely love watching this coach interact with these teens because he invites them into manhood. In every way, he calls these players to become something. Not to obey rules. Not to play the game right. Not to just improve as athletes, but to improve as young men.

It got me thinking, “What am I really calling students to? What am I calling my own kids to be?

• Am I calling them to be Bible readers or followers of Jesus?

• Am I calling them to obedience or to passion?

• Am I inviting them to tow the line or to live by risk and faith?

• Am I asking them to be believers or to be leaders?

It also reminded me of this truth: What I call students to is what they’ll aim for. In other words, if our student ministries or even our families lack leaders, maybe it’s simply because we never require it of them. Maybe, instead of just correcting a mistake, we should call them to step into a different identity. Instead of calling students to behave a certain way, we should be calling them to become a man or woman of character. That character, by default, excludes the option of certain actions. It’s like a grid through which decisions can be made.

Then tonight, on my way to dinner, I walked past this karate studio with these pictures in the window.

I again was struck by what they don’t say. They don’t read, “Punch. Kick. Fight. Win.” Instead, they read, “Leadership. Determination. Goal Driven. Dedication.” It’s time we take a clue from the athletic coaches of the world.

Let’s call teens to live better lives, not have better behavior.   

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Brian Berry is a proven veteran of student ministry. He serves as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, California, where he works directly with the high school ministry and oversees a staff that is responsible for infants through teens. Brian is also a frequent blogger, writes and teaches for youth workers, and is the author of both As for Me and My Crazy House and Criticism Bites. He speaks at various conferences, camps, and retreats for a variety of audiences. He is married to Shannon, and they have five kids.