Handle with Care: the ‘Extra Grace Required’ Student
There’s always THAT kid. The disruptive one. The challenging one. The EGR one (Extra Grace Required). Always. In every group. They can be loud and obnoxious, or disrespectful and sullen. They can be awkward or even flirting with inappropriate (heck, they are seldom just flirting with inappropriate…it’s usually quite flagrant!). There’s always one. At least one. So what’s the spiritual leader, the representative of the Cross, supposed to do? How is he/she to respond?
Early in our ministry (mine and my husband’s), it was easy to relate to students. We were basically still students ourselves. As the years have passed, relating to teens requires a greater shift, but the upside is that years of personal experience and observance have granted perspective that we did not have early on.
I cannot tell you the number of students who taxed us to our wits’ end, who are now faithful spouses, loving parents, and among the church’s most passionate and dedicated agents of the Gospel. Sure, some who were difficult in their youth have carried those same traits into adulthood (now they struggle in their “adulting”). Some have even chosen to spend their time on this planet as enemies of the Cross. Sure. Those exist too. But how is a youth minister to minister while the outcome is yet unknown, while our sights are set for each student’s call to be a Kingdom warrior with direction, focus, and purpose?
With grace. With a constant awareness that we are all that EGR relationship for somebody. We are not above it, nor have we outgrown it. This is a constant in our fallen state. Our students are in a complex season of life. They try on various identities; they want to define themselves. Let’s remember that. Let’s remember those often grueling years of adolescence and uncertainty. I know I personally prefer age 45 over 14 any day. Since patience for us has been required of those around us, let’s give it generously to these young ones. “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
With humility. Let’s not forget Job 38: “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, ‘…?’” God presents Job with a list of questions He knows Job cannot answer. He draws
Job’s attention to the limit of his knowledge and the only response is humility. We know so little. We know so little of the past and present and nothing of the future. This truth applies to our knowledge of our students. We have a zero clue base of what their life is really like, what their future holds or who they were meant to become. We must remind ourselves of this every single day, with every single student and every single encounter.
With truth, grace, and love. The encounter of the woman brought to Jesus in adultery (John 8:3‐11) exhibits the perfect balance of truth and grace. In truth Jesus, abiding by His own standards, could have thrown the first stone. He was “without sin.” This isn’t where He wielded truth, though. Truth most certainly was held up – by not sugar‐coating or smoothing over the overt sin in her life. But grace exploded on the scene when Jesus did not throw a stone, when she was forgiven, and offered instead the opportunity to “go and sin no more.”
We cannot, must not, bend or adjust the Gospel in our efforts to give comfort to our broken, struggling students. But we can uphold them and walk with them in love, while they take the difficult and brave journey of accepting the brutal truth of their sins and shortcomings, then releasing these burdens at the foot of the cross. This alone will set them free. Grace, truth, and love: in perfect balance.
Like Jesus. Jesus tells the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25‐37), drawing our attention to an expected prejudiced human relationship, only to demonstrate compassion. Every student that comes through our doors presents us with opportunity and responsibility. They may not have physical gaping sores, but living in a fallen world is sure to have caused mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds (if not actual physical wounds, too). Tend to the totality of the person, don’t just react to their behaviors.
In the Gospel. If we are daily being taken deeper into the truths of the Gospel, if we are submitting to it and being changed by it, the ones sharing this journey with us will know it, see it, and share it. The only authentic way to share the Gospel is to submit to having its truths applied to our own hearts constantly. As that transformation takes place, we will be more enlightened to its effects on those around us. (Romans 16:25‐27)
With integrity and above reproach. 2 Corinthians 6 is a compelling and challenging passage for the servant leader within the church. Verse 4 begins a sobering line of thought. “But as servants of God we commend [present] ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
What a grave job description for those of us called to Gospel ministry.
Our job is overwhelming. We constantly have to remember that we are a tool God chooses to use; we are not the sovereign ones. He alone has the insight, information and omniscient view of past, present and future to weave us – Extra Grace Required and all – into the tapestry of His perfect glory.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1