We all have them … those students who, no matter how committed we are, simply aren’t interested in growing in their faith. They show up. They hang out. But they don’t seem willing or interested in taking their faith to the next level.
So, how do we lead these students to grow in their faith? How can we disciple teenagers who don’t want to be discipled?
Simple. We can’t.
No. Really. We can’t. I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve learned a lot about people and about faith development. I’ve had to unlearn and relearn a lot too. Culture may change. Ministry philosophy may change. But one unchanging truth is this: No matter how badly we may want to see someone grow in their faith, if he or she doesn’t want to grow, they will not. No matter how committed we are, no matter how solid our ministry approach is, the individual on the other end has to want to become more like Christ. And until he or she does, we won’t see a lot of fruit.
If this message seems depressing to you, it shouldn’t. If it makes you want to give up, don’t let it. If it feels hopeless, it’s not.
The fact of the matter is this: Our teenagers are selfish sinners. The students we disciple have their hearts bent toward themselves. (Newsflash: You and me are sinners too. My heart is naturally as selfishly inclined as anyone’s.) The journey toward God is a fight that goes against our sin natures. It is a credit to God’s grace and the power of the Spirit that anyone of us ever takes the first step toward following Christ. Discipleship is an uphill battle. It’s not easy. And honestly, if it were it would be boring. Part of the reward is in watching students struggle and seeing the moment when it takes.
So what do we do? What can we possibly do with students who don’t care to grow in their faith? Can we do anything?
Yes. I think we can.
First, don’t give up.
Never stop trying, as difficult and as exhausting as it can be. There is a clock ticking inside that teenager who seems so unwilling to grow. God is working in his or her life. We can’t see when that moment comes when it begins to click. But God can. I want to be there when it happens. So do you.
Second, don’t show your frustration.
You may disagree with me on this, and if you do I can see your side of the coin. But I don’t want to show my frustration because I don’t want to put a wall up between them and me. For a student who shows up but isn’t interested in growing, it might not take much to make them stop coming all together. Take your frustrations to God. Don’t take it out on students. Be graceful and patient.
Third, see the relationship as the reward.
You may not be seeing a ton of fruit in your teenagers. But what you can do is build a solid relationship in spite of the lack of growth. Enjoy your students. See the relationship as the ends, not the means. Who knows? The growth in this student may come their sophomore year in college, or when they get married. If you have laid the foundation of real, meaningful relationship, you may very well be the person he or she calls when they are ready to get real about faith.
At the end of the day, the old adage is true: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. But here’s the funny thing: Horses still need water. And if we know where water is, there’s no reason to ever stop leading them to it. One day, they’ll take that drink. And I want to be there when they do. I bet you do too.