The Freedom of Being Average
Students today are being assaulted by a constant call to do the work of a super hero. Whether it is in books such as the Divergent or The Hunger Games series or in the countless number of super hero movies that are released just about every weekend, the message seems clear: you, too, can be a hero. You just have to be willing to try a little harder.
Sadly, it seems that many Christian have bought into this message. Many of us are familiar with the stereotypical Christian films that tell the story of the young believer who stands up for their faith and who is then quickly rewarded with praise from their peers, the conversion of their harshest critics, and the winning shot in the big game. When seen on film, this message is easily (and rightly) criticized by many of us.
What many well-intentioned youth pastors can easily miss, however, is the prevalence of that message in so many of our student ministries. As a result, many students in churches across America today are given the impression that they, too, should expect undeniable success in their own spiritual endeavors if they just try a little harder.
The desire that can often drive any youth pastor to this “just try a little harder” message is one that is easy to understand. As a youth pastor, I want my students to thrive in their faith. I want them to be effective witnesses in their schools. I want them to believe that God can, in fact, do great things in their lives. The danger (and overall unbiblical nature) of this message, of course, is that it runs in complete contradiction to the promise Christ offers when he says that his yoke is light (Matthew 11).
So often, I find myself limiting that promise of Christ. My own tendency is to regularly apply Christ’s promise solely to the initial call of salvation: I am saved purely by God’s grace and entirely apart from my own good works. This is, indeed, a vital lesson to understand as believers and to clearly teach as pastors. And it does, indeed, inspire a sigh of relief. But all too often I breath that sigh of relief only to then quickly move on to feeling overwhelmed by the weight of a “just try harder” view of sanctification: Yes, I am saved by grace. But now I must use my own talents and work in a tireless manner to ensure that my sanctification process is in full swing and that God will (therefore) use me to accomplish great things.
This dangerous tendency is by no means anything new in my life. As a teenager, I regularly questioned my faith due to the fact that I had assumed that genuine faith would inevitably translate into God doing great things through me. In my mind, “great things” meant winning converts on a consistent basis, receiving praise from peers for sticking to my convictions, etc. When I didn’t see these things happening, therefore, my natural conclusion was that my faith was weak. That conclusion then drove me to hear my youth pastor’s weekly lessons as a reminder of my personal failures and as a call to just try harder. I just needed to read the Bible more each day, pray harder, watch less television, and make sure that I took better notes during each lesson.
It was not until my college years that I started to experience the reality of Christ’s promise. During those years, God opened my eyes to the fact that my calling as a child of God was not necessarily to win mass converts. The epistle of 1 Peter was especially helpful as I realized that the grand calling that followed Peter’s famous description of the Church in I Peter 2:9-11 (“chosen race, royal priesthood,” etc) was surprisingly basic. Peter instructs his readers to be good citizens, good spouses, etc. He tells them that they are to be known for their righteousness, love, and hope. And he tells them that as they strive to live out that calling, they can trust that they are doing exactly what Christ has called them to accomplish. These words were a reminder that the “greatness” I so often yearned for was something already attained in Christ. My present calling as a believer, then, wasn’t to prove myself to God or to my fellow believers. It was to be guided by the hope that comes in knowing that I have been saved by Christ and that I am, therefore, guaranteed ultimate success in him.
As a youth pastor I must be very careful to regularly make sure that I am not negating the promise of Christ to my students. When my students listen to my lessons, are they hearing the gracious and freeing call of Christ or are they hearing a cumbersome call to worldly greatness?
Do I still desire God to do great things in the lives of my students? Of course. But I must remember that biblical greatness is not necessarily seen in the life of the super hero. It is found largely in the teenager who is striving to be a good student, a good son or daughter, and a good friend. It is found in that student who, by the standards of so many, is simply the average child of God who is driven by a love of their Savior and a constant hope of his return.
*For a more thorough presentation of this topic I cannot recommend Michael Horton’s Ordinary enough. His book was a tremendous breath of fresh air as I continually battle against my own fleshly desire for greatness in my own life as well as in the life of my student ministry.
Join us for Rooted 2015, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore how the good news of God coming to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ offers student ministers and teenagers, hope, healing and connectedness.