A Theology of Discipline in Student Ministry [part 2]

Today we’ll discuss the Biblical theology behind discipline.  God actually says a lot about discipline in the Bible and it is from God’s word that we draw out our principles for living and ministering to people.  When I think of the theology behind discipline in student ministry, there are some great verses in the Bible that I use to build that theology:

Proverbs 23:13-23 – “Don’t fail to discipline your children.  They won’t die if you spank them.  Physical discipline may well save them from death.  My child, if your heart is wise, my own heart will rejoice! Everything in me will celebrate when you speak what is right.  Don’t envy sinners, but always continue to fear the Lord.  You will be rewarded for this; your hope will not be disappointed.  My child, listen and be wise: Keep your heart on the right course.  Do not carouse with drunkards or feast with gluttons, for they are on their way to poverty, and too much sleep clothes them in rags.  Listen to your father, who gave you life, and don’t despise your mother when she is old.  Get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment.”

Hebrews 12:1-11 – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.  And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people, then you won’t become weary and give up.  After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.  And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as children?  He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you.  For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”  As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children.  Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?  If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.  Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?  For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how.  But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.  No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening – it’s painful!  But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 – “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you – something that even pagans don’t do.  I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother.  You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame.  And you should remove this man from your fellowship.  Even though I am not with you in person, I am with you in the Spirit.  And as though I were there, I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus.  You must call a meeting of the church.  I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus.  Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

**These are some pretty harsh verses, I have to admit.  But they paint a picture of just how important the purity of the church is and how important discipline is.  Discipline, even harsh discipline, has the ability to save people from themselves.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.  It CORRECTS us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

**even the Bible is useful for disciplining.

There are many, many more passages that deal with the topic of discipline… but I think we get the picture: Discipline is mandated from God.  It’s something that we MUST HAVE and MUST DO, even in student ministry.

tomorrow I will go into further detail about what to do when a student has inappropriate behavior.

A Theology of Discipline in Student Ministry [part 1]

Over the past 3 months one of the questions that I have been asked a lot is the question of “How do you handle discipline in youth ministry?”  I wish this wasn’t an issue in student ministry, but it is.  When I first started out in ministry, I read Doug Fields‘ book “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry.”  That book was very formative for me in my youth ministry experience.  In the back of that book was an entire theology of discipline.  I adapted that for my own ministry… and then tailored it to fit me.  So this material is borrowed heavily from Doug… but it has been the way I teach discipline to my leaders for almost 10 years and it has worked well.

1. Expect Good Behavior

students will usually rise to the expectation of the leaders.  If you don’t expect your students to have good behavior, then they most likely will not have it.  We need to expect that students WANT to be at our programs and that they REALLY will like them and when they do not meet these expectations, we need to be shocked and appropriately communicate that to them.

2. Have Some Well Stated Guidelines

I’m not a huge “rules” guy in youth ministry.  My theory is this: the more rules you make, the more you constrain the heart.  That being said, I have always operated my student ministries with a few “Well Stated” guidelines.  These guidelines “guide” everything we do in our ministry.  I teach these guidelines to our leaders so that everyone is on the same page.  The guidelines are: Fun and Respect.  We want students to have fun.  If they are not having fun, then something is wrong.  I mean, this is student ministry after all.  We also want students to recognize that they are not the only ones in the building.  This is where respect comes into play.  Respect those who are your leaders.  Respect those who are on the stage.  Respect those who are sitting next to you, in front of you, and behind you.  If students can remember, “I need to have fun and I need to respect everyone,” discipline becomes a piece of cake!

3. Annoying or Inappropriate?  

We need to remember that we work with teenagers.  I don’t know about you, but I did some pretty annoying things when I was a teenager.  (my wife wants you to know that I still haven’t grown out of all of those 🙂 )  Talking, bodily noises, laughing during prayer at something that was only mildly funny, all of these most likely will fall under the “annoying” category.  We don’t always need to “lower the boom” when we are annoyed by behavior.  I teach my leaders to use discernment and ask “Has this crossed from annoying to disrespectful?” before disciplining a student.

tomorrow we will get into, “okay, what do you do if a student has crossed the line?”

What to look for in a Student Leader

Over the course of my years in student ministry, I have found the best use of my relational time with students to be with a group of student leaders.  In a large youth ministry, you cannot hang out with every student, and you can’t hang out with no students… so student leaders became a viable option for me.  Some have asked, “How did/do you go about selecting those students?”  There isn’t one specific way… but there are a few things that I look for in a student leader:

1. A Servants Heart

Jesus sets the bar very high when he tells us, “Your servant will be the greatest, and the greatest will be your servant.”  I don’t look at who is the most popular or who is a classical “leader”… I ask, “does this student have the heart for serving others?”

2. A Willing Attitude

Every student leader needs to have the attitude of “whatever it takes, I’m willing to do it!”  If I ask a student to help with taking out trash or setting up some chairs… and I get the attitude back of “I’m a leader… I don’t do that” then that sends HUGE red flags to me that this kid will not fit as a student leader in my ministry.

3. A Life after Jesus

I need to know that student leaders are doing the best that they can to follow Jesus with their lives.  I take great issue with students who “pose” christianity at church but live differently at school.  I love those type of students, welcome them to our ministry with open arms, teach them the way of Jesus, but do not put them on the leadership team because integrity is HUGE to me in leadership.

There are a few more things I look for, and I will share those in my next post.

The Line between “Liking” and “Leading”

In every student ministry there exists a huge challenge for leaders: “where do I draw the boundary between friend and leader?”  This is a tough one, especially when your philosophy of student ministry hangs heavily in the relational world.  Instead of going point by point, I’m going to tell my story of growth in this area.

The Early years…

I came out of college as a 22 year old Middle School Ministry director.  Single but not ready to mingle (engaged).  I had all kinds of theories and philosophies.. but very little ACTUAL ministry experience.  (unless you count one year as an unpaid youth pastor of like 5-10 students… which I do 🙂 )  I was given the task/responsibility of creating a middle school ministry from the ground up.  The first couple of months we had a solid 15 kids.  Our group was a tight knit one, and I was their leader.  I went to all their games, I went to their school plays, it was youth ministry 101!  But a problem slowly started creeping into my ministry: my students started entering into the “friend” zone.  How did I know?  When I confronted one of them about something… they said “you’re not supposed to say that!  I thought you were my friend!”  OOPS!  I had lost all leadership leverage with those students.  I said something like, “I don’t need a middle school friend.”  I read that somewhere… but they kindly forgot to mention that you don’t actually SAY that to your students.  He replied, “You’re a Jerk.” Ahhh the friend zone.  Lesson sort-of learned.

The Early Years, but a little later…

I realized that being a student’s friend was important, but earning their RESPECT was way more important… so I did a complete 180.  I became distant from my students.  I disengaged from them.  (this all literally happened within the span of 2 years)  I thought that if I wasn’t in the “friend zone” then my students would respect me and listen to my leadership.  But that didn’t work either.  Instead, the students thought I didn’t care about them.  “Why aren’t you coming to our games?” “Why don’t you visit at lunch anymore?”  These were questions I got.  I thought I was being a “leader”… I wasn’t.  I call this the “chaperone zone.”  You all know the chaperone… they stand against the wall or in front of the door with their arms crossed and try to be intimidating.  Students don’t respect that either.

The Present years…

What I realized is that there is a delicate dance that every student pastor needs to learn.  It is the balance between love and limits.  It is the balance between friend and leader.  That there is a fine line between liking and leading, and every youth pastor needs to learn to walk it carefully.  One slip to the left or the right, and you will lose leadership or respect from your students.  Here’s what I learned to do:  I learned to draw clear boundaries in my personal life that students may not cross.  They are boundaries that say, “I love you, but I must also lead you.”  Things like, ” you can totally call me, but not at dinner and not after 9:00 pm.”  or “I’ll go to some of your games this year, but my family will always come first.”  Communicating those expectations to students help them understand that you love them, but you are also their leader… not their buddy.  This not only went for me, but I wanted all of our student volunteers to understand this as well.

My prayer is that student pastors would learn to walk the fine line between liking and leading.