What do we do with the “model student” in youth ministries? It’s very common for youth pastors to use phrases like “Sarah is an unbelievable student. If only I could have a dozen just like her.” Students like Sarah show up for every event, have a great attitude, and I have definitely said these kinds of things during my years in youth ministry.
Have you seen youth ministries that focus too much on the model students? Ignore the hidden students? What can be done to minister to both?
But in the chapter in The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry entitled “God’s Hiddenness, Absence, and Doubt,” Andrew Root makes this statement: “…On the one hand we want to hold up and celebrate those youth who are role models of good citizenship, those seen as engaged students and successful leaders. But in truth they are not necessarily role models of faith, for our faith calls us to search for God between possibility and nothingness, between hope and despair…. In this theological perspective, the supposed loser young people—those invisible adolescents—are the ones where, in fact, God is at work, up against their brokenness and yearning. The incarnate and crucified God calls us to search for God not in the fullness of success but in the emptiness of honest yearning.”
I don’t think we have to choose one or the other. Students who set a good example should be praised for their faithfulness, and God is surely present in their lives as well. But students who struggle and who even despair shouldn’t be tossed to the margins. As Root says in a later chapter, “the best theologians ask the most disturbing questions.”
Do you feel churches know what to do with young people in particular (or church congregants in general) who aren’t the role models, who struggle and doubt and don’t behave all the time? Have we created an environment where outward success is rewarded and failure is shunned?