Being Responsible To Your Students- Joshua Hurley
We were sitting around the table, playing a board game, like any other
Tuesday night. Just me, my two roommates, Marvel Munchkin, and a couple of sodas. The actions of one of my students earlier that day was on my mind. I had been sent a video of him getting into a fight after school.
This student, whom I will call Bobby, had just been allowed to go on our winter retreat after making a deal to help with all the fundraising programs. He had been disrespectful at summer camp and as punishment was told he could not attend the winter conference. Call me a pushover, and maybe I am, but I saw so much potential in Billy that I wanted him to attend. Two years earlier he was a wild fifth grader and considered one of the worst students in his class. But after joining our program, his teachers saw a huge change. They had approached me saying what a difference we had made in his life. Maybe my pride was attached to his success. However, at camp he reverted to his old ways; being disrespectful, foul-mouthed, and ready to fight. I like to think it was either a minor setback, puberty, or just the wrong combination of students in his group.
I played Thor as an Ally, defeated my villain, and passed my turn. “So guys,
what do you think I should do about Bobby?”
They both knew him; he had been in our home several times. In fact, the whole neighborhood knew Bobby. He was a kid with a lot of personality and wasn’t shy about it. My desire to see Bobby succeed was driven by something else, too. We shared a lot of similarities: the youngest of two sons, single working mother, and a friend group that talked us into doing some completely foolish things. The only difference was that I was raised in a town where the worst thing a teen could do was try a cigarette. But Bobby was from an area of Chicago where drug trafficking happened in the halls of his school, gangs shot people ten feet from his house, and cursing was a regular part of the student vocabulary. Had I been raised under those circumstances, I may have acted similarly to Bobby. That’s when my roommate spoke up.
“You are responsible to him, not for him. You’re not his dad, and it’s not your job to discipline him when he gets in trouble at school.”
Here’s the breakdown of the conversation that followed as he then proceeded to snatch victory from Thor and myself:
You are not responsible for him, and you are not his dad
When we start trying to punish students for things they do outside of church, we impede on the rights of the parents. If something happens outside our scheduled programs, it is not our job or right to discipline. Does that mean we shouldn’t address the issue with the student? No. We should talk to them, get the story, and offer advice. As youth ministers, we sometimes get the opportunity to provide something to students that’s just as valuable as good parenting, and that’s good friendship. If my roommate got in a fight, would I tell him he couldn’t come play laser tag with us?
Of course not.
You might not be the student’s parent, but you can be their friend.
Also, you get to be the friend that they aren’t trying to be cool in front of. Our job as youth pastors isn’t to judge students. Our job is to come alongside them and to help them up when they fall. We can’t take on the responsibility of making sure they never fall.
You are responsible to them.
- We are responsible.
- We are responsible for sharing the story of God’s grace, the Gospel, and the truth of the Bible.
- We are responsible for providing a safe environment, with safe adults, and an opportunity for them to grow in their knowledge and faith.
- We are responsible for praying for our students and encouraging them to pray for themselves and others.
- And we are responsible for respecting a parent’s discipline choices.
Just like Thor was my ally in the game, I am Bobby’s. He makes the choices, plays the cards, and suffers the consequences. I can’t force him to choose what I would. I can’t make him do the right thing, and I can’t live life for him. As his ally, I can only stand beside him. I can offer a shoulder if he needs one, a word of advice when he is willing to listen, and a life that reflects a love of Jesus for him to aspire to. It’s the job of the students’ parents to make the tough decisions about discipline and to set up rules for them to follow outside of church.
What I learned that evening was that we have to trust in the words of the Bible, the lessons God puts on our hearts to teach, and the reality that no one is too far from grace. We can’t force a student to listen; we can only provide the opportunities for them to hear.
About The Author: Josh Hurley
Josh is the student director at NewStory Church in the city of Chicago. He is also the director of an after school program called Club StuCo that teaches students team work and leadership skills while mentoring and helping them determine the importance of their self worth. In his free times he builds sets and designs props for local theatres, plays video games, and loves going biking.