Caroline Duncan lives in North Carolina with her husband and daughter. She serves in student ministry at Biltmore Church where her husband, Curt is the Student Pastor.
I’m one of these people who sees a turtle in the middle of the road and pulls over to take it home. I feed the squirrels in my yard so much that they literally scratch my door every morning. I have the same philosophy with people—I like to rescue. Whether it’s homeless people or the students we minister to, I love taking in strays.
A Heart to Help
In student ministry we daily hear stories that are horrifying and overwhelming. The subjects we hear the most about are:
- Hunger and poverty—there’s never enough to go around.
- Parents acting like children
- Sexting—eventually someone will love and accept me
- Divorce—the painful push and pull of being used by parents as a pawn instead of valued and loved as a child
- Sexuality—defining themselves based off of who they decide to hook up with that week
- Porn and the pressure it puts on girls to do degrading things
When I hear these kids’ heartbreak and trials, I’m so tempted to try and save them myself.
“Call me at 3 am and I’ll come get you—you can stay with us when the drinking gets out of control!”
“Why don’t I text you every day and make sure you aren’t feeling the suffocation of depression?”
“Let’s get together once a week and have a bible study—accountability is all you need to squash that insecurity problem!”
You can see the danger in this as your ministry grows to 30+ students with serious issues. Instead of swooping in to rescue, I’m learning to do the best thing I could ever do in student ministry: to teach them to rely on God’s faithfulness, not mine.
“Let’s pray and ask God to change this. Don’t forget who is sovereign in this.”
“This right here is what Jesus was thinking about when he was on the cross—these feelings of hopelessness and betrayal and confusion are what he died to save you from crippling under. Let’s learn how to live a life of faithfulness—even when our circumstances remain unchanging.”
“Let’s praise God for giving you opportunities to rely on him or show his love to your family/friends. Let me help equip you to be faithful in your relationship with God and not just do things to make your life seem easier. Let’s learn about trust in weaknesses.”
You see, the noble desire that longs to help, to fix, and to rescue is the same desire that Satan can use in ministry to weaken us. He uses it to halt our prayers to the true savior; to bring instability to our faithfulness by making our faithfulness seem to rest on us, not Jesus.
A Need to Trust
Proverbs 16:2 says, “All the ways of man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.”
Even our good desire to help and fix can be turned around on us and used for our demise. When the desire to help no longer trusts God, even a desire to help can become sinful (Rom 14:23).
It’s not my job to save or fix my students, it’s my job to love and guide them (John 13:34). If I take their problems into my hands that way I claim a power that only God has. My students will not truly benefit from this; they don’t need to trust in me, but in God. I can show them how to do this by trusting in God myself as I minister to them.
Here are a few ways to trust God and avoid being a fixer in the challenging world of student ministry:
1. Keep your pride in check.
It’s easy as leader to start thinking I have all the answers and can fix all the problems when I forget my helpless state apart from Jesus.
When we fail to remember and confess how much we need Jesus, we begin to take control of others’ situations, leading to defeat and burnout when we realize that in our power alone, we can’t fix anything (John 15:5). When we spend time in God’s word learning who he is and who we are, we start to recognize what Jesus has done for us and therefore, enabled us to do.
If we’re humbly and rightly grounded in confidence in Jesus, not ourselves, we can be steadfast in him for our students.
2. Be faithful in prayer.
Humble, confessing prayers of needing Jesus produce passionate and expectant prayers of receiving his help.
James 1:5-7 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
Answered prayers don’t always look the way we imagine they will. Many of our prayers may not be answered in the situation looking differently, but in a deepened dependence on God and a trust in him within the struggles of life. This is what it means to receive God’s wisdom, which he promises to give. Our prayers need to be filled with praise at the wonderful things God has already done and hope in the amazing things he has promised to do.
When our lives model dependence on God that leads to prayer, students see it, learn it, and want it. When it’s clear and evident in your own life, it’s easier to teach and pass on to their lives and struggles.
3. Meet immediate needs and rest in Jesus.
I used to think that in student ministry you should feel exhausted to the point of giving up. I thought that the, ‘I could have a nervous breakdown any second from all the burdens on my shoulders and the stress it brings’ feeling meant that I was doing it right.
In Matthew, we’re told to ‘deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow”(Matt 16:24-26). This is a powerful command to spur us out of selfishness and do what God has called us to do. But Matthew also says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:28-30).
We won’t do faithful ministry work if we don’t rest in Jesus (John 15:5). Being so busy that you’re constantly exhausted leads to defeat and burnout, which will hurt your students so much more in the end. Realizing that you’re not the only one who can deliver food, pray over someone, resolve a conflict, or lead a bible study is key to ministry. Resting in Jesus means remembering that he cares for his people. You therefore, are free to discern your limits and stick to them, so you can stick it out in ministry long-term.