Growing up in the 90s, one of the types of teachings in the church I fell in love with is apologetics. I loved the reasoned arguments and evidence showing the Bible is real historically and that Jesus is who He claimed to be. This apologetical thinking helped me through my late teens and early 20s, even when I started questioning, “if God was real and did I truly believe what I was brought up to believe?” As I wrestled with these doubts about God, it was the path of apologetics that I believe the Lord used to help me become reassured that God is real and His word is true. This gave me such peace and assurance in His word and the church.
Then came the time I believed I was being called into ministry, specifically a student ministry pastor. So, I brought this passion for apologetics into Student Ministry. I thought that if I flooded them with the facts and figures, the archaeological evidence “that demands a verdict,” and gave my best “Case for Christ,” then the students would also fall in love with the knowledge they heard, give their life over to belief in God, and grow into maturity. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and I wasn’t sure why at the time. It took a mentor of mine to ask a simple question when I was venting to him about how the ministry wasn’t working, and the students were not responding. This simple question was, “do your students know and feel that you honestly care about them?”
There is an old saying by Theodore Roosevelt “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Sometimes in our passion for sharing our love of God, the Biblical knowledge we discover, or the wisdom learned from experiences causes us to forget to build the relationship with a student that earns the privilege to be heard. Before we can impart the knowledge, we must care for our students’ emotional needs and be present in their lives. This means asking what they are into, their hobbies, their music choices, and listening to their thoughts on various subjects without judgment. It means validating feelings and thoughts that may even be immature, and we fight the urge to “bring correction.” It is showing up to their sporting events or art/music performances and simply supporting them. When we fill that empty seat in their lives, we then earn the privilege to speak into their spirituality.
When a person is cared for, truly cared for, they will be more open to the knowledge and wisdom we have to offer. Why? Because we allowed Christ’s love to show through us, which will enable them to see the authenticity of the God we serve. When I think back on my time learning about apologetics, I was open to it because of the parents, teachers, mentors, and Pastors who loved and cared for me. Earlier in the ministry, I forgot that, but I know it now. So, before I share my love of apologetics with who the Lord puts in front of me, I do my best to make sure that that student knows how much I love them as a person. When it comes to student ministry, I wonder if this way is also part of us “speaking the truth in love.”
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Joe Valenzuela is the Executive Pastor at New Life in Scottsdale, Arizona.