During my first years of ministry, I had a bit of an attitude problem. I felt since I was pursuing a seminary degree my church should somehow automatically let me teach and preach sermons. Yeah, I was a little arrogant. I remember sitting in my pastor’s office, essentially complaining that I wasn’t getting the respect I thought I deserved. As he patiently listened, he smiled, walked over to his desk, grabbed his Bible and started thumbing through it. I didn’t pay much attention to what he was doing until he cut me off mid-sentence, handed me his Bible and said, “Read this.”
I was a seminary student, I thought, so who was he to hand me a passage of Scripture like I hadn’t heard of it? In fact, I was certain that I probably dissected the passage in Greek. But I read it anyway. I read it begrudgingly, but I read it. After I finished, we talked about it for a bit. I nodded as if I understood and appreciated the time and insight. Truth is, I left that room not fully grasping what God was trying to teach me.
As I finished my degree and matured in ministry, I came back to the passage over and over. It haunted me. It was like God would not let me forget it until I learned the lesson I needed to learn. I caught it when I finished my first year of teaching.
The passage is about a master who takes a journey (Matthew 25:14–30). But before he leaves, he entrusts his servants with varying amounts of his wealth to manage. Most of the servants manage what the master entrusts to them by making wise investments and getting a worthwhile return for their efforts. But one of the servants decided to do something different. Instead of investing, he buried what was entrusted to him out of fear. Naturally, when the master returns, he is thrilled with all the servants but the one. Why? Because he failed to take proper care with what he was given. It wasn’t his, but his to manage. The master not only strips the lazy servant of what little he does have but gives the others more.
I struggled in my early days of ministry, not because I was arrogant or felt I wasn’t being respected (okay, I was, and I did), but because I didn’t have a grasp on what God had given me, how I should invest it, and how it would contribute to the kingdom. I had a hard time finding my place within the church and finding community. The struggle ended up creating unnecessary tension and resentment toward others who were serving, my pastors, and even the church as a whole. I saw no reason to invest because I had little clue as to what I could offer.
Here’s the thing—many of our students feel the same way. But you probably do a spiritual gifts inventory or have skillfully identified the musical students, the outgoing ones, the techy ones, and the creative ones. So that’s good, right? Not quite. While those certainly help and you could add in a Meyers-Briggs personality test, a DISC assessment, or everyone’s new favorite Enneagram—none of these are getting to the root of what my pastor was trying to teach me. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having students sign-up to be greeters, leading worship in the band, or working the soundboard. In fact, there is a ton right with those things. The more you get students engaged and invested in your community, the higher degree of commitment you’re going to receive.
But what do you do with the introverted kid, the math kid, the writer, or the computer nerd? It slips past us when we aren’t looking, but if a student can’t contribute somehow to the production of youth group time, and they don’t want to shake hands and smile at the newcomers, then we rest contently while they passively sit in a chair for the evening. For many of us, that is where our gifts assessment ends. Why concern ourselves if the student’s gift doesn’t fit into the context of youth group?
Because if we don’t help students walk this path, they will be missing a key piece of discipleship—investment. Jesus tells the story because He knows how easy it is to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, then sit back and do nothing. It’s easy to make excuses for why we can’t evangelize, why our churches aren’t growing, and why we aren’t making a difference in our communities, schools, and families. It’s easy to be the wicked, lazy servant. I actually think, for some of us, it’s not all that difficult to sympathize with Him just a little bit. But as we work to grow our students spiritually into mature disciples, there are three truths I want to give you which will help steer us clear from the attitude and fear of the wicked lazy servant.
Students are creative
It’s incredible to think God created each one of us uniquely in His image. When you look at the variety of personalities, gifts, and physical traits of a person, it’s hard to wrap our minds around the creativity of God. It’s not just that God is the Almighty Creator, but He is also creative. Everything you can touch, taste, smell, see, and hear, came out of the creative mind of God—from nothing. Everything we know—and the stuff we haven’t even discovered yet—originated from the divine creative mind. But there is something far too many Christians seem to forget—or perhaps never learned.
We are co-creators with God. We have been created to create. Think about it. In the creative mind of God, He knew before the foundation of the world that humanity would need to create cities, governments, and economies. He knew there would be a need for teachers, doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, construction workers, and mathematicians. He knew humanity would invent cars, planes, computers, and the internet. And because we are created in His image, every good thing we create has a divine imprint.
Every one of our students—whether they consider themselves creative or not—are in fact, creative. In whatever way God has gifted them, what they are passionate about, and just really good at, they have the divine mandate to use who they are in Christ to be creative. However, our students may not be keenly aware of what that could look like for them, so it’s our job as youth leaders and parents to help them discover and walk that path.
Students have a craft
I think it’s easy to wonder just a little why the master was so upset with the last servant. He didn’t lose any money, and he gladly returned what was originally given. It’s about potential. What the master gave each servant had incredible potential. In fact, the master never intended for the servants to just maintain his wealth, the intention was to multiply it. Each of the servants held more than just the master’s wealth; they held and were given responsibility over potential wealth. So when the lazy servant buried his portion out of fear, the master actually suffered a net loss, because he lost what could have been.
Whether you prefer to quote Voltaire or Uncle Ben Parker from Spider Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Our students have each been given incredible gifts with infinite potential—gifts designed to reflect the image and glory of God and further His kingdom. But if all we are recognizing are the skills of the kid who plays guitar or the one who can run the soundboard, then we are burying any potential the rest of our students would have had.
Therefore, we have to help our students discover their creative calling and fully realize their potential to take who they are, what they love, and what they can create—and how they can uniquely point others to Christ.
They all have a canvas
God has asked all of us to be disciples by being holy and fully realizing our intended purpose as people created in His image, but we show what that looks like through what we love, what we are good at, and the people in our lives. The same is true for our students.
If you struck up a conversation with me, it wouldn’t take long to discover that I am not a math guy. I don’t like it. I’m not good at it. For whatever reason, my brain just isn’t wired to speak that language. So as a teacher, I would often joke about math being evil. That was until a student of mine named Tony wrote a brilliant paper. In fact, it was so good that it was published in a book I had written featuring several students. He argued that there are only two things we know of considered to be necessarily existent. Which basically means, something is existent in and of itself, nothing created it. It just is. Those two things are math and God. The idea was that if math and God are existent in the same way and much of the universe we can explain using math, then perhaps math is the language of God. Well, that was enough to stop me from calling math evil, to say the least.
It’s one thing to see the youth band’s worship leader using her life as a canvas to showcase the creative work of God Almighty. Maybe she listens to worship music, writes a few of her own songs, and even sees the deeper theology behind the music. But it’s another thing to see how Tony found a way to showcase God’s creative work through math. Tony found how math could be creative and be his canvas.
We need more students like Tony, and we need more leaders to recognize that kind of creative ability. Instead of math, maybe it’s a knack for business, acting, history, woodworking, engineering, or even baking cookies. These are the makings of the masterpieces God is at work creating in and through your students.