Anyone with just five minutes of experience around young people can affirm that a vast array of personalities exist within a room full of them. Spend a few extra minutes in that room and you will quickly discern one group of students in particular: the troublemakers, or as I tend to refer to them, the punks. It never ceases to amaze me how easily identifiable these students are, no matter the size of the group. Perhaps it is their uncanny ability to draw negative attention to themselves, or the fact that other students will be quick to point them out.
In every room, particularly in a church located in the infamous “Bible Belt”, there is also a strong representation of what are referred to as “good kids”. You know them well; they are popular (in some respect), polite (mostly), smart (at least they act it), and even funny (sometimes).
In my years of student ministry I have come to learn that every gathering will have both the “good kids”, and the “punks”. God, in His wisdom and mercy, equips adults of all sorts of backgrounds to work with students; some gravitate towards the “good kids”, while others move towards the “punks”. Furthermore, each side has a special place in their hearts towards those they minister. The danger comes when we begin to prefer ministering to one type of student over the other. In reality, both “good kids” and “punks” have hearts that are desperately in need of a savior, and we must be leading both to Jesus.
Too often the “punks” become nothing more than our babysitting project once a week. We forsake true evangelism and discipleship of these students because it is hard work. Before long, the “punks” become a thorn in our side or perhaps something worse: largely ignored in favor of the “good kids”.
Likewise, the “good kids” tend to become the already-finished project in our minds. They are on their way to becoming good citizens who respect others and make valuable contributions to society. We forsake true evangelism and discipleship of these students because we convince ourselves that they are already good. Therefore, they are largely ignored and left to explore their sinful flesh as leaders focus attention on the “punks”.
Here is the catch: all students have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Every single student is a wretched sinner in need of grace found in faith in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:8-9) The “good kids” and “punks” alike need the saving power of the gospel, and it is our responsibility to clearly communicate it every chance we get, to every student we come in contact with, regardless of our preferences.
How do we overcome the preferential treatment of students? Simply put, as leaders and volunteers we need to get out of our comfort zones. We must take on the attitude of Christ Jesus, and with humility love all students with the love of Christ, regardless of background, status, attitude, or how they treat us. As the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi,
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
There is too much at stake for the people of God to submit to personal preferences when it comes to loving and sharing the gospel with students. Humility must be our default posture, and Christ our motivation.
May our thoughts and attitudes toward any student never create a barrier for the gospel of Jesus Christ!