Over the past church year, I had the great honor, privilege and joy of teaching the 11th grade Sunday school class at FCBC Walnut. From serious questions about smoking and vaping, to shared laughs over my own faults and mistakes when I was in high school, I truly enjoyed the morning hours of community, fellowship, learning and growth with the juniors this past year.
Yes–I said growth for myself, too! While I hope and pray that God used me this year to speak His truth to the students, I definitely know that He also used my experiences with them (and with my co-teacher Aaron) to teach me as well. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned through my time with the Walnut juniors this past year:
1. God can redeem my own shortcomings and failures, both then and now, for His glory.
Like Paul, I desired to impart my own life to our youth so that they may take the lessons I have learned and apply them to their own lives into the future (1 Thess. 1:7-8). Today, I can look back on and evaluate my high school self with better clarity. As I reflect on my high school years, not only can I recognize the sin and lust that enticed me, but I also can reflect on truths that God taught me experientially about His goodness and sovereignty.
As a high school sophomore, I attended my own small group at my home church in NorCal, which was led by our youth pastor who also acted as our discipler. But even in such an environment, I easily gave into sin and disobedience in the form of dating, which was forbidden at the time by my parents. Their wisdom proved itself in the end as my relationship ended in my junior year, and though it’s easy to look back now and see how minor the trial was, in the moment it truly felt like the world was crashing around me as I questioned why God allowed me to endure such an emotionally difficult moment.
Because of my previous struggles, I feel that I am better equipped to relate to the high school students, and to share both the lessons I’ve learned from my trials as well as my pitfalls along the way.
2. It truly takes a church to raise up our youth.
Because my primary mode of ministry to these students is as a Sunday school teacher, I have only a small slice of what the rest of their lives looks like. My time with them is limited to a 75-minute window once per week. I definitely do not want to downplay this opportunity–there is a lot I can (and have!) learned from the students in that “short” amount of time. Even still, a significant portion of their time is not in the Sunday school setting. This limits both the time that I have to invest in them and the amount of perspective I have on what our juniors are like outside of the Sunday school setting.
Because of this, I am ever so grateful for our church. The Lord has given us a body of believers, each with different talents and gifts to serve different functions (Eph. 4:11-13). While I don’t want to overlook the numerous members serving ancillary functions of ministry (eg, administration, music and sound, etc.), I am especially grateful to the Unikoi counselors who are also pouring into our students on a weekly basis. Many of them are also young adults who desire to raise our youth to love the Lord and share their own experiences of God’s faithfulness in their lives. Their regular and continual service in mentoring our students is key as they are able to see, know, address, encourage, reprove, and pray with these students in ways that I may not be able to reach them.
At the end of the day, though, no one is closer to our students than their immediate family–particularly their parents. While some of our high schoolers may have unbelieving parents, the majority of their parents are also engaged in the ministry and work of the Church–whether at FCBC Walnut or elsewhere. Our pastors, teachers, and counselors cannot ever replace the insight, knowledge, and influence our parents have on our children. The fruit of their labors is evident in our students as they bring their knowledge, understanding, and maturity into our classroom. I won’t even try to pretend that I can fathom the tremendous responsibility and effect of godly parenting, but I know that our students are shaped by it and I pray that–through the power of the Holy Spirit–our parents will continue to teach their children to love and fear the Lord (Deut. 6:4-7).
3. We must invest in the next generation of believers.
Our church recently finished a study through the book of Judges. Judges is well-known for God’s faithfulness to His people despite their unfaithfulness to Him. Throughout the book, we see a continual cycle of disobedience, captivity, repentance, and deliverance. But one of the prominent initiating factors for this cycle is found early in the book:
“All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10 NASB
A significant contributing factor to the disobedience of the Israelites to the Lord is that they had forgotten His faithfulness to them. But how did this forgetting happen? It happened from one generation to the next. The second generation mentioned in Judges 2:10 arose and did not know the Lord, but by implication the previous generation did. So what happened? A reasonable, and maybe even most probable, conclusion is that they were not instructed of God, His character and His works by the generation that preceded them.
As believers, it is our duty to ensure that the next generation hears and knows God–not just intellectually, but experientially too. May we continue to encourage and exhort the next generation to seek Him, lest we risk a generation that does not know the Lord or His work in our lives. As we reflect on God’s goodness to us now, we must bend that reflection so that others, including our youth, may also see how God has been faithful.
All-in-all, I’m grateful to the leadership at FCBC Walnut and to the Lord for the opportunity to invest in the lives of the 11th graders this past year. Although that baton has now been passed to other faithful brothers and sisters in the church, I will look back fondly upon the year knowing that the Lord is continuing to use His body to build up His church to further His kingdom and for His great glory!