The following is a guest post by Tyler Recker.
Last week, we began to discuss the high expectations that we have as a student ministry on students who profess to follow Jesus.
Allow me to flesh out what is meant by high expectations.
We believe that at the moment of conversion students are under the same call to “take up their cross daily and follow Him” as adults are. This means that we believe students who profess to be Christians are challenged to examine their own hearts for sin, so that they can repent of that sin and believe the Gospel.
You have got to know this about our student ministry:
Questions about exteriors are ALWAYS used to help students diagnose interiors. We talk about the fruit that their life is bearing, so that they can diagnose the condition of their heart.
So, for example, the most criticized aspect of our student ministry has been our focus on students reading the Bible for themselves. Here’s how this usually goes down.
“Did you read your Bible this week?”
“Why do you think that is?”
“I was too busy.”
“Did you play video games this week?”
“You found time for video games, but not to read your Bible?”
“What does that say?”
“That reading my Bible wasn’t a priority for me this week.”
“Why do you think that is?”
So, then the exterior is not the point. The interior is always the point, because the interior affects the exterior, and NEVER vice versa (Luke 6:43-45).
This is why every week there is the disclaimer that we are not trying to get students to manufacture fruit apart from the Holy Spirit. We are not trying to get students to read their Bible so that their Circle leader will get off their back. That would be futile! We do not prescribe Bible reading as the answer. We prescribe the Gospel. We implore students who are struggling to beg God to move to help soften their hardening hearts.
I sat in a Circle group of high school guys as every one of them poured out their heart to God begging Him to make them less selfish, less taken by the things of this world, more captivated by the Gospel, more drawn to His Word, and more active in sharing the Gospel.
That’s what we aim for.
Spiritual growth is never attained by sheer human effort. It’s never just works. But the Holy Spirit at work in someone’s life does produce works (James 2, Luke 6:43-45 again).
And here’s the thing:
If there are no works, if there are no Holy Spirit-wrought affections for God’s Word and God’s church, we have to ask why. Why do I never want to read the Bible? Why do I value this activity over the community of believers? Why do I act this way?
What do you do when confronted with the reality that believers bear fruit and some of our students lives don’t? Could it be that they need to examine whether they are in the faith at all?
Hear me on this. I’m not saying that each week when a kid hasn’t read his Bible, we question whether they’re saved. I am saying that when a student seems to have no heart for spiritual things over extended periods of time (6 months, 2 years, etc.) then we do think it’s okay to challenge students to “make [their] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).
The absolute worst thing we could do when the Holy Spirit is working to draw a student to a deeper level of faith through repentance and the Gospel is to say “You are fine. Don’t worry about that. God understands.”
It is often painful to watch God root out sinfulness from a student’s heart. (Isn’t God’s discipline hard in our own life?) It always involves the student going through the pain of their depravity to find the healing of the Cross.
Early on in my ministry, a 6th grade student busted his knee wide open at summer camp up in the mountains. I rode with a few older student pastors to ER in the middle of the night. I held that student’s hand as the doctor stitched up his knee on the inside and then the opening of flesh on the outside. The kid screamed out, he squeezed both my hands, he begged the doctor to stop. He was in writhing agonizing pain and had no anesthesia. The doctor pressed on. The pain was necessary to fix the wound.
When the Holy Spirit is doing a work on a student’s heart, sometimes it is painful to watch because the student is going through some tough realities (“My heart is wicked. It is prone to idolatry.”). Far be it from us to try and remove the pain of Holy Spirit-wrought repentance at the expense of genuine healing.
When I am privileged to watch God bring healing to a student through this difficult process, I am not going to quench the Spirit’s work by coddling him and saying “You’re fine. You’re a good kid.” but you can bet I will be there to hold their hand as the Doctor does His surgery.