Things I Didn’t Learn In A Classroom

After ten summers in student ministry I thought I would write down a list of the things I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way. Here we go……

  1. You will always get weird looks buying supplies for the next event from Walmart. Who else buys pool noodles, shot glasses, a slinky, pickled pig’s feet, spam, and 100 ping-pong balls in the same purchase?
  2. Always. Point. Them. To. Jesus.
  3. Camp still works. When you’re at camp with your students join them during rec and don’t be too cool to lather on some face paint to rep your squad during rec. Have fun; don’t take yourself too seriously—even if you did get hosed in a Singing Bee competition.
  4. Dodgeball is still a fan favorite. Sometimes students don’t need an over produced event that you’ve been planning for 6 months; they need a pool or slip-n-slide and hot dogs. Don’t just plan an event, participate. Ask for help. Don’t do it alone.
  5. Don’t take the summer off just because you’re students are out of school. Be intentional; both planned and spontaneous. If they have a job, stop by to see them. If they play a sport, show up after conditioning with an ice chest full of Gatorade. Never underestimate the impact a cherry-limeade can have. Students like food and their friends do too: invite them to lunch.
  6. Coffee. Lots of coffee.
  7. Getting on school campuses is still effective. Build relationships with students, administration, teachers, coaches, and resource officers.
  8. Don’t forget the parents. Build trust by building relationships.
  9. Connect your graduated seniors to the college-aged ministry in your church BEFORE they leave for school in the fall. Also, give them the names of some churches near where they will be living to get plugged in to.
  10. On a mission trip something unexpected always happens.
  11. Students can change the world, like Jack Andraka. God still uses students to impact and influence the church, Like Zach Hunter.
  12. Spend quality and quantity time with your family when you’re not traveling. Set a quick pace, but don’t forget to Sabbath. In the hectic pace of the summer schedule don’t forget to carve out time for you and Jesus.
  13. Make sure students understand what a red flag warning means at beach camp. No joke. Seriously, not a joke.
  14. Students are more likely to respond positively when you ask them to do something rather than bark orders at them like a drill instructor at Paris Island.
  15. Don’t shy away from having the tough conversation with a student. After all, our job does not afford us the luxury of skirting the tough issues.
  16. Sometimes the best way to learn is to jump into the deep end.

Here’s to many, many more summers investing in the lives of students, parents, and families.

What’s on your list?

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A Chemistry Refresher

Go back in time with me for a minute, will you? It’s your sophomore year of high school. You’re sitting in your chemistry class zoning out. Did your chemistry teacher hate you too? Remember that giant, wall-sized periodic table? You probably remember elements H & O; but do you remember which element is W?
W = Tungsten
H = Hydrogen
O = Oxygen
What on earth does the combination of elements W, H, & O have to do with Jesus?

If you get enough Tungsten and heat you can fashion it into a ring, like my wedding ring. If you get the right combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms you get water.

Now, what do a wedding ring and water have to do with Jesus?

Yesterday, maybe a lot.
Today, not as much as yesterday.
Tomorrow, maybe nothing at all.

Since I have mentioned the word “wedding” I feel like I should also mention two things:
First, this is not a commentary on the latest United States Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or California’s Constitutional Amendment Proposition 8 (Prop 8).

And secondly, “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…and wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…so tweasure your wuv. Have you the wing?”

For millennia the Church has celebrated believer’s baptism or baptism by immersion as one of the central ordinances of the Church. It followed the new convert’s vocal confession of “Jesus is Lord” and signified membership and alignment with a local congregation. Not much has changed. And I am not suggesting that it should.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a new believer come up out of the baptismal waters. A few weeks ago I was asked to assist my pastor in helping him baptize people (a first for me); I’ll never forget those moments.

In fact, one of the best parts of my “job” is seeing and being a part of the light bulb moments in the lives of students. The other day I was having a conversation with a student who went to camp. While we were at camp she experienced the most pivotal lightbulb moment of her life: she put her life in Jesus’ hands. She’s a new believer! Our conversation on this particular day was about next steps, specifically about baptism.

Typically when I speak with students about baptism I use my wedding ring to help explain the significance, symbolism, and meaning of believer’s baptism. Well, after speaking with this student I realized that this illustration may no longer mean what it used to.

My spiel usually goes something like this:
Me: Do you see my wedding ring?
Student: Yes.
Me: What does my ring mean?
Student: It means that your married.
Me: You’re right. My wedding ring tells the world a few things: (1) that I am married, (2) that I love my wife, and (3) that I am committed to my wife forever. Make sense?
Student: Yes.
Me: Baptism is a lot like a wedding ring. It shows the world and the church that (1) you’re a Christ follower, (2) that you love Jesus, and (3) that you’re serious about this relationship and committed to him forever.
Me: Now, there’s nothing special about the water. It’s literally the same water you take a shower with at home. We don’t sprinkle anything into it. It really is just tap water. The reason we call it believer’s baptism is because getting baptized doesn’t save you, Jesus does. Since, you have put your faith in Jesus and given him control of your life, the next step for you will be baptism. What other questions do you have for me?

Again, this is not a commentary on DOMA or Prop 8. On this particular day, after the student and I were done talking I remembered that their parents live together, they are not divorced, have had 4 kids together, but have never been married. They are committed to each other, but not married. So what did my illustration mean to my student?

My ring as an illustration may not mean as much to a student like this one or to a student from a broken/blended family. However, it means and signifies a great deal to me. You see, my ring is a symbol of my love and commitment to my wife and my wife to me.

Even though a wedding ring might not mean what it once did, and even though it feels like nearly half of my students come from broken or blended families I will continue to use my wedding ring to explain baptism. Because, like baptism my ring signifies:

Eternal, unconditional love
Unwavering commitment
Complete trust
Covenant relationship

Also, my ring, like baptism, is a symbol of life change. I went from being single to being married–for the record I enjoy married life much more than bachelor life. I went from being an outsider to being an insider with Jesus; from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus personally; from having a relationship with the church (religion) to having a personal relationship with Jesus.

Our government will probably continue to redefine things; it may even redefine marriage yet again. In spite of all this, a wedding ring will continue to symbolize a covenant relationship between fallible humans; baptism will continue to symbolize a covenant relationship between an infallible God and redeemed believers.

Student pastors: keep using the wedding ring to help explain baptism and above all else, keep pointing students to Jesus.