Growing WITH Them

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June 21, 2019

I took a deep breath, looked a few of them intentionally straight in the eyes, and sincerely apologized.

In over 25 years of student ministry, I can’t ever remember starting a Bible study this way.

They were gracious and, I believe, appreciative of my honesty and transparency.

In the weeks that have passed since, I have been so very blessed by these teens, that I had to share.

I have learned from them. God has taught me so much. Prayers were answered. My eyes have been opened and I have grown.

Before any of this could’ve begun to happen, I had to to confess my sin, first to God and then to them.

I’m not proud of my sins.  The specific ones that had led up to this particular confession are a couple of my go-to “favorites,” the ones I commit without intention and seem to creep into every aspect of my perceptions and self-centered reactions.

The class had ceased to be “fun” for me to teach. The students attending seemed to be bored and apathetic. There was no evidence of anyone having any spiritual growth over the 3+ years I had been teaching it. I was frustrated with what I perceived to be there inattention and un-appreciation.

Looking back, I am not sure how He did it, but He did. The Holy Spirit genteelly pointed out that I was the one who was bored and apathetic AND that I had gotten that way because I was self-righteously and pridefully judging these young believers.

My self-perception of being this “great” teacher who had written these “fantastic” Bible studies led me to fully embrace the belief that I was better than these students, who came every Sunday morning to Sunday school. After all, I had been a Christian far longer than anyone of them had even been alive and none of them would even agree to open our time together in a word of prayer. They were dependent on me to do that for them too. I looked at that at as another reason to judge and condemn them.

But God . . .

He reminded me that each believer is on his or her own journey with Him. He is working, weaving our paths to intertwine and cross in ways that exceed our imaginations. I am not to judge how close those teens are to God based on an hour or so I spend with them once a week. How can I really tell whether or not that they are growing spiritually on their journeys or not?

Prayerfully, I wanted the class to see each other and our time together as an oasis from the pressures they face in their worlds outside of church. Public school, jobs, family issues, expectations  (I was even heaping those on them) and more all weigh so much heavier on them than when “I was their age.”

Through another Bible study I had been preparing for, I saw how Anna welcomed Baby Jesus and his parents to the temple. She encountered God, had lifelong prayers answered and then went and told other believers of the great thing God had done for her and was doing for all of them. This is what I wanted the teenagers to do – encourage each other by sharing how God was working in their lives and answering their prayers.

Now, we are all learning and growing together through His Word. They are starting to share how God is showing them cross-references in their personal Bible studies and how His Spirit is intervening to help them make right decisions. No one is volunteering to pray aloud – yet, but they are listening to each other – and I am listening to them too. How did God do this?


  • First, I realized WE all had to open our eyes to see how God is working in our lives. Part of my confession that morning was just that – how the Holy Spirit had revealed my sin and impressed upon my heart to ask them for forgiveness. I needed them to know that I didn’t have any special link to God because I was older or because I was their Sunday school teacher or because I had been a Christian longer or because I wasn’t afraid to pray aloud publicly . . .
  • Second, I needed their help to hold me accountable to be intentional to seek God out. If I wanted God to use our 1 hour a week I needed to be praying about it. I needed to be in His Word, hearing what He was speaking into my heart. I needed to be listening too – not just checking it off my to-do list, but concentrating, meditating, processing what He saying. I was kinda, sorta doing those things, however, my heart was far from into it -especially in regards to them and this class.
  • Third, in order to be intentional -and to involve them in that intentionality, I enlisted their help in deciding our next course of study. Desiring for their buy-in and ownership, I asked them for what they wanted to study and then I listened.  3 John was chosen due to its brevity and I assigned them the homework of reading it before next week. And they did it!
  • Fourth, I stopped preparing a lesson. I am not saying that I won’t go back to prepping for our time together, but for now, I am wanting them to learn to read and to study and to apply scripture for themselves. It’s a little disconcerting to start a lesson in front of teenagers and not know where we are going, but it has been so cool to see God’s Word come alive to all of us at the same time. They have had insights I didn’t see. They are seeing how even this little book tucked toward the end of the New Testament has applications to their teenage lives.
This has very much been a group effort and, for the first time in a long time, I am looking forward to my time with them each week. 3 John may only consist of 15 verses, but we all seem to be really learning it as has already taken us over a month to go through it verse-by-verse.
All this started when I confessed my sin. My sin had led to arrogance and had stifled not only my journey with God, but had directly affected the class’ journeys too. Sin is never private and never limits its effects to the one committing it.
I tried to talk myself out of asking for their forgiveness. I mean I knew God had forgiven me, but I also knew that I would still be a slave to my sin of pride if I didn’t swallow it and own it. The results were so worth it.
The courage the Holy Spirit gave me to confess aloud to the group cultivated the safe environment the students needed for them to be transparent and share what God was doing in their lives too. Once my sin was out in the open, they then had freedom to share their ideas and impressions of what God is doing in their individual lives. If, as their leader, I can’t be real then I can’t expect them to be vulnerable either.
Their forgiveness has been sweet and freeing. No longer do I need to put up a facade that I have it altogether. I don’t have to have all the answers. I have laid aside my pride and can genuinely say, “I don’t know. What do you think?”
Without my self-righteousness and pride in the way I can learn and grow WITH them . . . You know, I think this sounds kinda like New Testament discipleship . . .

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