Honestly, I can’t remember how our small group discussion ended up here. All of a sudden a very animated 16 year old yelled,
“I hate it when adults tell me I have potential.”
“Why?” I inquired. In my own mind that is a great word that helps others understand that we were made for more.
The boy continued, “Well, first of all I mostly hear the word from teachers or my parents when I am getting lectured. It never really seems positive. Also, I don’t ever feel like I am allowed to make mistakes. It’s like everyone just thinks I am a mess. When I do something right, it’s like that was wrong.” I wanted to make sure I understood. “So what I hear you saying is that you feel like people just think you can’t get ever get it right? When you do that is just a deviation from the norm. What you want is people to see that you are really not trying to mess up. It just happens sometimes.” (Yes, I used the word deviation. Yes, I had to explain what I meant by that.) His eyes went wide, “Exactly! It’s like when adults say “potential,” they can’t see I’m trying.”
As I listened “between the lines,” I realized this young many was saying, “Help me don’t talk at me.”
So in those moments when we need to call a student to “more,” how do we? For the reason we throw words like “potential” around is often because we feel our students are either going down the wrong path or are just plain apathetic.
What’s the approach?
Make Sure They Know WHOM They Belong To:
1 John 3:1a tells us, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” I asked some students recently “Do you know what it means to be God’s child and the benefits that come with that?” None of them could give me an answer. They would describe themselves as “Christians” and had grown up in the church. We must help them know when Salvation comes we now belong to Jesus, learning to live in that.
Let Them Mess Up and Wrestle with the Hard Stuff:
Our role in a teen’s life is to help them know what following Jesus looks like. We also need to recognize that sometimes they may wander. Other times they turn around and want to know, “Why does following Jesus look like this?” Many times they are trying to figure out what being with Jesus means. When we see destruction ahead our role is to tell them what it looks like, and how to avoid it. Then we need to trust they will ask the right questions and stay on the narrow path.
Walk It Out:
Here is how Christ modeled reaching our “potential:”
I will do it - You watch. (Miracles performed, life lived, lessons taught.)
You do it - I will watch. (Sending out of the disciples twice while he was still on earth to cast out demons and spread the good news.)
You do. (Jesus sent them out.)
“There is nothing sadder to those of us who disciple kids, when we see you get stuck and not want to change,” I told this boy. “We can see Jesus wants you to lead where you are now. So many times we see you walk away, and it hurts our hearts. We use the word “potential,” because we see you choosing to turn away from who the Lord is calling you to be. However, I want you to know that all of us, me and the other leaders, we haven’t reached our potential either. Being all Jesus wants us to be takes us into eternity. Potential doesn’t have to be a bad word, it all depends on how we spin it.
Do your students have “potential?”