YOUR students—An Inside Look

Johnny was the perfect Christian kid. Always on time to the children’s ministry morning program, he brought his Bible each week. Bible verse memorized? Check. Good behavior? Check. Bring a friend? Check. Solid, right answers? Every time.

Student ministry, youth ministry, adolescent development

(Photo by theswedish at

In fact, you might say he was the ‘poster child’ for his church. Each year, his teachers loved him, and hated to see him graduate on to the next class. By the time he headed into high school, everyone was sure he would someday be a leader in the church.

Johnny entered high school, then university, and gradually drifted away from Jesus. He and his parents began to fight. Soon they caught him looking at porn. Next came the alcohol on his breath. Then a non-Christian girlfriend. Eventually, he turned his back on church altogether. What happened?

We all have these stories, don’t we? They break our hearts. I still grieve over the students whom I have led that followed this path. Their faces haunt me as I think of the painful decisions they are making. And I’m comforted that even Jesus—Jesus!—had a disciple turn away forever. The Bible is full of stories of those who walk away.

But I’m also convinced that this doesn’t have to be our defining story. The young people with whom we work are making some of the most exciting decisions of their lives. They are capable of engaging God, His Word, and His people in real, dynamic, transformative ways. Most of the major movements of God have come through the energy and focus of young people.

So, how do we live more of the second story, and less of the first one? How do we lead youth ministries that produce lasting fruit? How do we see a movement of God among our students? And how do we care for those who are tempted to walk away?

Of course, there is no one simple answer. Wrestling with these questions is one of the main purposes of this blog community. One place to start is to truly understand the hearts of the students in our care. Much of what we miss in youth ministry comes from fundamental misunderstandings of the students whom we lead. Specifically:

  • What motivates an adolescent?
  • How do they make moral decisions differently? How should that shape how we discipline?
  • What are the deepest questions they are asking? How can we create an environment where they ask those questions of the right people?
  • How is a 13-year old different than a 17-year old? A 22-year old? How should our teaching and leadership show those differences?
  • What new cognitive, moral, and social skills are they acquiring, and how does this influence how they relate to us? How should that change how we respond?
  • What are young people truly capable of?

Our relationships with students are defined by how we answer these questions. As we work with young people, we’re called to be experts at understanding their internal world. When we do, we can invite them to an understanding of God and His gospel that goes deeper and stronger than we ever thought possible.

God designed the questions your young people are asking. Let’s get inside their hearts and help them find answers.

I hope you’ll join me for our new series: YOUR students—An Inside Look.

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