False Expectations?

Do you sometimes find yourself expecting your students to be at a place in their walk with God that matches yours? Do you forget that it took you years of growth to be where you are today in your relationship with Christ?

Beware of those creeping false expectations. Remember that your ability to grasp and apply a lesson’s truths is quite different from your students’ ability to do so.

What can we remember as we lead and teach our students? Our task is to love them and to offer the Word of God to them through our lives first and then through our teaching. False expectations can frustrate us and lead us to conclude that either we or our students are failures. False expectations can teach our students to be people-pleasers.

“It seems that the adults in teens’ lives [are] more interested in telling them something than they [are] in listening to them.” —author and researcher Tim Clydesdale

Hard as it is to do, we constantly need to examine ourselves for self-centered motivation. It’s easy to expect results in order to prove that we’re accomplishing something. It’s easy to expect certain behaviors or attitudes in return for the ministry we give. There’s always a subtle trap of wanting students to fit into the pigeonholes we’ve constructed and conform to what we think they should be. We can so easily develop our own subtle legalism—an unspoken agenda and set of laws that we expect our students to live up to in order to measure up in our own eyes.

Of course we should have goals for our students and for our teaching. But be sure those goals are consistent with the gospel. Our goals should be God’s goals, not our own efforts to control people. One youth leader’s motto is, “Accept students where they are; nudge them to where they are not; and love them no matter what.”

Often when we have expectations, we become judgmental. It’s important that our students see grace at work in our lives. Don’t seek to stand in judgment over them. Rather, keep looking for the plank in your own eye. Our students need to know that they don’t have to perform to be loved. Pray that they are motivated by an understanding of the unconditional love and mercy of Jesus Christ, not by guilt. Express the truth that God wants sons and daughters, not little Pharisees.

One youth leader’s motto is, “Accept students where they are; nudge them to where they are not; and love them no matter what.”

Do you want your students to go beyond merely discovering their role in the world to actually acting out that role? If heart, attitude, and behavior change is our goal, focus not so much on what our students are not (their failures and inadequacies—things that we share with them) as on their becoming what God already sees them to be in Christ. We can help them perceive how important they are in God’s eyes. We can remind our students that God’s plan includes a vital role for them. We can emphasize the fact that he trusts them with incredible responsibility. A lot of people are reluctant to give young people significant tasks. But God is not a respecter of age. To borrow from an old Army ad, “He doesn’t ask for experience; he gives it!”

Don’t be afraid to share with your students your own struggles as a Christian. Let them see that you understand how tough it is, how often there’s failure. But also point to the sufficiency of Christ, who has called us to a crucial mission and who loves, forgives, and protects us in the process.

On the other hand, you may have some students who are so desensitized that they need to consider whether they are double agents. Those students must recognize that there is no neutral ground in this war. They may wish to think they can play both sides and remain in the middle. But they can’t. We are either for Christ or against him. The best thing you can do is pray that the Holy Spirit will bring conviction to such students. Don’t tiptoe around the clear teaching of Scripture.

How do you protect against false expectations?

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