There is a municipal water park in Spokane, WA that my daughters like to frequent when we visit my in-laws. It’s a really neat place. They have a bucket that fills up with water, water spouts shooting streams of water all over the place, both a fast and lazy river, and one water slide that even young children can go on. Sari and Macie love this place.
There is no doubt, though, who’s in charge: the lifeguards.
The lifeguards at this municipal pool are in charge. You know how sometimes when you’re at a pool manned by lifeguards, you need to still be hyper-vigilant as a parent because the lifeguards are kinda lax? Not this place. The lifeguards are the boss. Now they are not jerks, they just take their life-saving job seriously. And they manage the environment of this pool really well. They aren’t shy about disciplining both children and adults.
Close to where our girls love to swim around are four water spouts. If you put your finger and block one of the streams it causes the others to go higher. It’s kinda cool. Well, when my wife did this, the lifeguard chided her and informed her that is not allowed. They aren’t shy about enforcing ALL the rules with consistency and vigilance.
There is no doubt who’s in charge and keeping the environment safe: the lifeguards.
I’ve been using this parable of sorts with our youth and children’s ministries at Hayward Wesleyan this school year.
I want the students to have no doubt who is in charge and keeping the environment safe: the adults.
In our day and age, it seems like adults are either afraid of students or they just want to be their friend (and in so doing end up abdicating their authorial role). Again, I’m not suggesting that the adults be jerks or mean or callous. Far from it. I am suggesting that adults need to take charge and be the adults we need to be. Students need to know they are loved and accepted, but misbehavior will be confronted and challenged, and the expectations of conduct will be clear from the outset.
The longer I minister, disciple and lead as a pastor, the more I’m convinced that students desperately want to be challenged. They appreciate adults who are clear and firm, yet loving and normal. One of the best postures an adult can have when working with students is to correct when needed and when correction is not needed to act like they haven’t done anything wrong (both previously or anticipated)… in other words, to be normal normally and a “lifeguard” when necessary.
There have numerous occasions where I’ve had to remove students for a season of time in our ministry environments because they pose a threat to others or they just don’t care. Most of the time, those students are eager to come back because of the way they left: with firm, yet loving correction. We don’t get mad at a students misbehavior, we actually expect everyone to mess up at some point or another. Students are always watching how an adult handles a problem. Most of the time students are used to making an adult mad and then said adult loses their temper and yells at them. This does nothing. I have never seen a hollered lecture work. However, I have seen a sad countenance from an adult and a sighed frustration that the student chose to remove themselves from the program for a time because of their behavior. When a student feels responsible for their behavior, I mean really feels responsible, then dramatic change happens, and students grow to really respect that adult and that environment. The trick is to get a student to feel responsible. To do so is to engage in dramatic discipleship with that student and when it’s done in a way they are least likely to expect, they really learn and listen.
So how do you manage your environment?
Your classroom, small group, children, sports team, workplace, transportation environment, etc.
Do students know you are the adult and you are in charge?
Or are the students in charge and you’re their friend and there is no real discipleship or instruction happening as a result?
My encouragement is to be the lifeguards for your particular environment, the adults your students need (as a parent, teacher, coach, etc). They will understand clear expectations and boundaries as well as love and acceptance. Doing so provides a model of how Christ is in their lives. Jesus provides clear expectations and boundaries as well as love and acceptance. Being the adults our students need goes further than merely controlling an environment to modeling a life lived in submission to Jesus Christ.