Discipleship is something we’re all called to in Scripture. It’s not a spiritual gift or a thought or a whim from the Lord. It’s a direct calling. We’re called to go and make disciples, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28: 19).
People always look at discipleship as “Paul teaching Timothy,” right? Teacher and pupil. Radically simple. But any pastor or youth leader or spiritual figurehead knows I speak the truth when I say: It’s not always that simple. No relationship is truly ever one way when it comes to wisdom. Sure, one side will be of greater merit, but both parties tend to walk away more learned. Paul speaks of this in Philemon, where he says that Philemon gave him “joy and encouragement” from loving others. Students will always have some effect on their teachers.
So it is at what I would call a “dry spell” in ministry in my own life that my heart and mind think back on the things I’ve so graciously been taught by the Timothy in my own life.
What You Model, They Will Follow
This is especially true of high school students. Your words aren’t worth the paper you write them on, compared to your actions. Your attitudes will shape their attitudes. One of my greatest failures in ministry was when I allowed my own pride to overflow into my language and actions. I still remember the day where I dropped Tim off at a mission trip meeting extremely late. We laughed and prided ourselves in our hearts in being “above the rules.” Slowly, but surely, I saw my attitude overflow, ever so slightly, into his attitude. Your Timothys are watching you. Never forget that.
Speak the Truth . . .
Timothy and I had open dialogue. Though I didn’t know about everything that went on in his life, he knew that I’d always give it to him straight. No beating around the bush or making things nice and fluffy. Now, this may differ from student to student. Some may find it harder to hear truth. I was just fortunate enough that Timothy would either hear truth full-force, or deny me completely (and believe me, I had plenty of the latter response as well).
. . . In Love
Another mistake I know I made in ministry happened when good old Timothy was flirting with a girl on a bus ride back from a summer camp. He knew another student who had gotten saved at camp the night before, yet had chosen to go and flirt with a girl rather than talk with his friend. I expected far too much out of Tim, and pulled him aside after the bus ride and ripped into him. Now, was the content of my message correct? Absolutely, and I’ll stand by it. But I remember the tone I used and the glare I gave, and I know it did more harm than good in the long run. So though you may carry the weight of some hard truth, always remember that love comes first.
Be Okay with Loving from a Distance
Sometimes, we just have to let people go. So many times, we want to “save” our disciples. We think that our message or stern lecture or words of encouragement are just what the student needs. NO. What your students needs is JESUS. Not you. When the Lord ceases (or takes a break) from using you in your students’ life, the only correct response is thankfulness for the time you were able to spend with that pupil (as I write this through gritted teeth). John the Baptist, when he saw Jesus coming towards him in John 1:35-37, said “Look, the Lamb of God!” What did his two disciples do? They followed Jesus. That’s it. That simple. He just let them go. Would that we could be as wise and as detached as John the Baptist in our ministry. This is a lesson the Lord is teaching me even now.
Make Them Sick of Encouragement
My Timothy was starved for encouragement, and frankly, most high schoolers are. Yet we too often choose to speak in words of sarcasm rather than words of love—even though we know firsthand what the need for encouragement is like. I still have voice mails and letters from friends and students and mentors from years ago because I love reading them and hearing and feeling the truth from them. A truly encouraging word is life-giving. Never let your students run empty on them. This is why Hebrews 3 expresses in verse 13 that we are to “encourage one another as long as it is called ‘today.’” Why? So sin doesn’t harden us. Always find something to spur your Timothy on with, whether it be a passage of Scripture or something that you see in the person that encourages and inspires you. Your word goes a long way with them.
Don’t Assume You Have All the Answers
Most of us would like to think that when it comes to Timothy, we’re prepared for every situation. I mean, they’re your Timothy, right?! Like almost one of your own children! Yet, nine months ago I was faced with a situation with Timothy where I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. We could say that in some sense those of us who minister never really have any idea what we’re doing, and that it’s the Lord who should always be speaking through us. However, I’d like to think that there are times where I at least have some notion or leading from the Lord, as opposed to going in completely blindfolded. But as I sat in a room while Timothy and his close friend were in the midst of conflict I was mediating, and his friend ultimately left the room crying, I was at a loss for words. It was only by the Lord’s guiding hand that eventually the situation was resolved. But with a sincere heart, I can say that it was not by my words or leading that it was dealt with. Only by God’s great mercy and guiding hand did anything transpire. And sometimes, you’ll just have to let some things go, because you can’t fix anyone. Even Timothy.
Never, Ever, EVER Give Up
I’ll end with a voicemail from Timothy himself from years ago. It’s the best thing I have to accurately display what sticking with Timothy through all the rough times does to him. How it impacts his heart.
“I definitely think some of my success is because of you. How you’ve stuck by me this whole time, you haven’t given up on me, and just how you’ve always been there for me when I needed you. And thanks for being willing to talk about my problems and for really . . . relating . . . to me. That’s just really awesome. That’s really kind that I can take up your money and your time, but you don’t care. You just keep staying with me, keep talking with me, keep being there for me. And I really want to thank you for that, because you’re the first person to really . . . do that for me.”
Never give up on your Timothy. He will always need you more than he admits. When you need wisdom, seek the Lord for it. When you need an extra measure of grace, remember God’s grace toward you. And when you forget why you’re even doing this, remember whose Timothy you used to be not so long ago, and think about how much the Lord must have used you to teach that person.
Image courtesy of the Gospel Coaltion.
Robert Tucker is the summer 2014 BreakPoint social media intern.