Why My Students’ Behavior Doesn’t Interest Me

POSTED: January 30, 2014
By Andrew Beal, Student Ministry Staff Member, Southbrook Christian Church in Miamisburg, Ohio

If there is one conversation that results in the greatest breakthroughs in the lives of the young men I mentor, it is the conversation where I will say something like this: “I used to think behavior was a really big deal, but what you do really doesn’t interest me so much as why you do what you do.” Then they look at me weird, as if I made a mistake and meant to say the exact opposite. Then I say I meant what I said. And then they want to know why I think the way I do when most every other authority in their life rewards and punishes them based on what they do. They want to know what could possibly be more important in following Jesus than our behavior.

Granted, what we do is absolutely important and counts for a lot. I believe both faith and works have a role in salvation. If faith is the cause of salvation, then I think works is the effect. If you don’t do what Jesus asks, then I have to wonder if you were saved to begin with. However, for the purposes of this article, we’ll keep the discussion of behavior in the realm of sin and rebellion on the part of the adolescent Jesus follower.

Leaders of student ministries have long been clinging to the stats on graduating seniors giving up their faith once they get to college. That never sat right with me. What makes more sense to me is that those same graduating seniors simply weren’t Jesus followers when they left our ministries at the age of 18. I think many student ministries are very effective at mistakenly teaching students that following Jesus is about doing right things and avoiding doing wrong things. I think many ministries are churning out students who think following Jesus is simply following rules. And when following Jesus turns into following rules, it always leads to either rebellion or a life marked by constant despair.

The concept of behavior vs. motivation gives my guys a lot to think about. I get to witness the beginnings of a paradigm shift whenever I set in to explaining that reasons are always more important than actions, that the ‘why’ is always more important that the ‘what.’ The nature of this conversation leads us to talking through why they stay at a party they thought they would leave, why they go to their girlfriend’s house when no one else is there, why they get frustrated in prayer and Bible study, why they can’t connect to God when others seem to so easily, etc. Strictly talking about what they do or don’t do is only to address symptoms and ignore the underlying issue. Only in the ‘why’ can we have a genuine conversation with our students that can grow them and bring reality to their relationship with Jesus.

The chief need and want of any high school adolescent is to be known and loved for who they truly are. Nine times out of ten, the reason any adolescent makes any mistake or stupid decision is in the pursuit of intimacy. Unfortunately, students typically stumble upon false intimacy before they find the real thing. And you know what? Most of the time, they can’t verbalize that intimacy is what they’re after, so we have to help them name it. Once we arrive at this truth—and it is the truth—we can begin an authentic journey into how they let God invade their lives and meet their needs of real intimacy through a relationship marked by love, restoration, forgiveness, and redemption.

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