I’m Waiting 25: Mentoring Today’s High Schoolers with Matt Clinton

I’m Waiting 25: Mentoring Today’s High Schoolers with Matt Clinton September 7, 2016

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Once again, I am joined by one of Im Waiting’s biggest supporters, Matt Clinton. Matt is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) rep in Carlsbad, Oceanside and Vista, CA. But more than that, he is an amazing guy who constantly pours himself into the lives of the kids who he mentors and disciples. By meeting with Christian teenagers on their turf, Matt has a unique opportunity to see their struggles, their realities, their temptations, and their victories… all very up close.

Now, when we offer our presentations at schools, we come on campus, do our presentation, meet with some kids… but then we leave after a day or two. This often bums me out because kids need more than these brief encounters to make lasting impressions on their lives. That’s why we have partnered with FCA, since they are on local campuses all the time with the ability to really follow up and walk alongside the students.

 Leslie: First off, Matt… tell me about yourself and what drives you in your ministry.

Matt: Well, I grew up in Carlsbad and went to Carlsbad High School, so I’m very familiar with this region. Sports, popularity and acceptance were huge to me back then. I was the ultimate “fence straddler” when it came to being all things to all people – whether they were my church friends or party friends. I knew who Jesus is and I knew he was real, but I was really a “moralistic” kid. It’s easy to say that I knew what Jesus wanted for me, but I wasn’t following Him in those years.

Now, I have the opportunity to be back on high school campuses and I see that ALL kids want to be accepted and included by their peers. Unfortunately, there is an abundance of ways to achieve this.

That’s where we are able to step in. Fellowship of Christian Athletes is an on-campus Bible study with opportunities to mentor and disciple student leaders, as well as coaches, faculty, and school staff. Through this, we try to reveal and explore new ways to see life and acceptance… and find God’s joy in it!

In hindsight, I really wish someone had come to me with something like this when I was in high school, my life would have been radically changed.

Prior to working with FCA, I taught in the Oceanside School District. I was a long-term substitute teacher and coach for three years. I really thought that that was my calling in life – to teach and to coach. I thought that I was pretty good at it and things were looking good. And it seemed to be the perfect blend of my skillsets and my passion.

But, God had a change of plan for me. The District had to make some massive budget cuts, and I was let go.

Leslie: So, you went from the instability of working at a school in the midst of a recession to working for a non-profit?

Matt: See, that’s part of how I knew God was working “behind the scenes” where I couldn’t see. When I learned more about FCA, I saw the combination of high school sports and Christianity along with the aspects of coaching, teaching, mentoring and discipling and I was instantly drawn to it! As a District employee, if I stood up in class and talked about my faith, I’d be fired for sure. But as an FCA rep, I can stand in those same classrooms and tell people all about Jesus without any hesitation!

So, now I facilitate Bible studies and raise leaders. So, I’ve been doing this for seven years now, and I can’t imagine doing anything different!

Leslie: One thing I find so incredible is how much Matt is respected on the campuses he works on. Whenever I visit one of his schools, it seems like everyone knows Matt Clinton and the huge impact he has made on people’s lives over the years!

That being said, mentioning the fact that we’re friends has opened up many doors for me! (I’m not too proud to name drop, that’s for sure!)

Matt: Flattery will get you everywhere!.. as does food and coffee!

Leslie: It’s for those very reasons that Matt and I often meet at Panera.

Now, before the interview, we were talking about challenges of marriage and family. You have two kids, right?

Matt: Correct. My wife and I have been married for nine years and we have a five-year-old and an 18-month-old running around.

Leslie: Wow. You’re… busy!

Now, as I mentioned, at the Pregnancy Resource Center and I’m Waiting, we connect with kids at our local schools, but then we leave because we need to move on to the next school. But, that’s why I love working with you guys at FCA. Because you remain on campus. We can send the kids who need someone to talk with to you guys.

Then, you don’t just talk at them, but you show them who Jesus is. You show them Jesus in the practical by really listening to them and walking alongside them through life.

What are kid’s biggest struggles these days?

Matt: It probably sounds like an old and trite answer, but identity is massive with today’s teenagers. Back in the day, I had a fair amount of friends, I was a pretty successful athlete – even playing at the collegiate level.identity-crisis

But, no one cares about how any of that today.

Yet, back then, being an athlete was first and foremost in regards to who I was. I didn’t realize that for even the greatest of athletes, eventually the jersey comes off.

Today, I see kids wondering who they really are. Where do they fit in?

So, it’s such an privilege to be allowed into their lives – to encourage them and show them how their identity really and entirely rests in Jesus Christ.

What we’ve been able to show them is that there is true freedom in Jesus!

We saw a great example of this at the Summer Olympic Games, as silver medalist diver Steel Johnson said:

“It’s cool because this is exciting, this is fun, but this is not what my identity will be for the rest of my life. Yeah, I’m Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time I’m here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ, not in the flips we’re doing.”

For most kids, they haven’t been told about their identity in Jesus. So, acceptance from their peers and key influencers becomes paramount. They want affirmation and acceptance from their coaches, they look for acceptance through social media, and they look for belonging and acceptance via sexual encounters. So many of these avenues that they think lead to acceptance and identity are actually nothing but a path of lies.

Even Christian kids struggle with this.

So, through FCA, we encourage kids to look at what Jesus has to say about life in the Bible. Then, compare what their peers, or movies, or music, or culture has to say about life with what Jesus has to say about it. This begins their process of understanding where they stand and where their identity comes from.

This turns into intentional discipleship. I get to show them not just WHAT the Bible says, but HOW it matters in their lives.

I tell them, “Whether or not you signed up for this, here is what God is calling you to be, especially as a male leader. This could pertain to your role out on the field, amongst your friends, around your siblings, or wherever else you go, but this is what God calls you to be. I don’t know if you have had this modeled for you at home or anywhere else – you may have never seen Godly leadership anywhere in your life. Sorry. But, there’s no way around it. This is the deal. This is what God has called you to be.”

And, we have had some massive breakthroughs!

Over the summer, my co-worker, Jordan, and I took four of our guys to the mountains on a weeklong retreat. We hiked. We fished. We turned off our phones and connected with God and each other instead of the Internet.

We were able to dig deep with them and ask the tough questions like, “Who are you… really?”

And these are all kids who have grown up knowing who Jesus is, but they’ve never been challenged to live according to God’s word.

Now, these guys will be leading on their campuses!

And, I think that with these guys as leaders, these school campuses can change!

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