It’s January—the month of unparalleled optimism and anticipation, full of goals and resolutions to improve our lives.
But rather than focusing on goal-setting methods or chasing your dreams, which are wonderful things, I want to peel back a few layers to why so many New Year’s goals never get met. There are various reasons for the lack of follow through, but one attitude is particularly sneaky, especially within the American church.
For those who believe in the gospel of grace, God’s undeserved kindness, we won’t blatantly say, “I deserve this or that.” But deep down, when it comes to making life-changing efforts or achieving our dreams, spiritual entitlement assumes “God will do it for me.” It could be making a good grade, getting out of debt, growing a ministry or raising a healthy family.
From my own life and experience as a student pastor, I believe this mentality is especially common in the hearts of students and young adults.
In an age of overparenting, referred to as the “helicopter parent” phenomenon, many well-intentioned parents have too easily swooped in and bailed out their kids, shielding them from the behind-the-scenes hard work of life. Some parents have provided all their kids’ needs without requiring them to demonstrate an appropriate level of personal responsibility and sacrifice.
To use 3DM language, many young people have received a lot of invitation without a healthy dose of challenge. If overparented, it’s no wonder many students carry this mentality into their spiritual life. God’s grace becomes a continuous bailout so they don’t have to take full responsibility for their decisions and actions.
We’re made to live empowered lives, not entitled ones. Jesus calls us the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” The apostle Paul affirms, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
The empowerment needed to live out this glorious calling comes through God’s grace, but we still have to take increasing levels of responsibility for our choices. It’s not God’s job to make us take up our cross, and it’s certainly not his duty to make our dreams come true.
Specifically for those of you who serve in student ministry, you have the privilege (and difficulty) of leading young people down a different path than one of spiritual entitlement. By personally trying to meet all their needs as “super-pastor,” we can perpetuate the mentality that God exists to make them happy. This approach keeps the focus on them (and us), rather than the greater work of God that they’re made to participate in.
They are characters in God’s story, not spectators. They are called to make disciples right now, not just one day in the future. Our job, among other things, is to entrust a level of responsibility to them, which requires their personal sacrifice.
Let’s not feed into entitlement by building youth ministries centered on meeting students’ every desire, or worse, just trying to be “cool.” Instead, let’s build cultures of discipleship, where students find a family of faith that challenges them to join in God’s work. If we can empower them now, only God knows how much this will serve them as they grow older and launch into college, careers, marriage, parenthood, etc.
As you reflect on last year and look ahead to 2014, here are some practical questions about your own leadership with students. Let’s make empowered disciples, not entitled ones.
1. How do you calibrate both invitation and challenge in your relationships with students and volunteer leaders?
2. What events/systems are in place to create environments for students to take ownership and responsibility in the ministry?
3. What opportunities do you offer your students to disciple others or be involved in leadership?
4. How can you hold your volunteer and student leaders accountable to their commitments, while also being gracious and patient along the way?