I totally whiffed that, I remember thinking as I dejectedly left the local coffee shop. I had been meeting regularly with a student who was struggling with intense anxiety, yet we seemed to be going nowhere. She was so consumed by her anxious thoughts that nothing I did or said seemed to gain any traction. When I tried to bring Jesus into the conversation, things only got more awkward. It was clear she was tired of hearing about God’s promises of peace when they didn’t seem to be coming true for her.
Needless to say, I felt like a complete failure each time we met, as if there was a secret solution for this student to which I was oblivious. Did I say something not only not helpful, but harmful? Had I not read enough youth ministry books in preparation for this moment? Had I not been praying for her fervently enough? Was I wrong in thinking God had called me to ministry?
Undoubtedly, every person engaged in ministry will have this experience. Ministry vets and rookies alike are all too familiar with the frustration of sitting across from a hurting student and feeling utterly helpless. We offer consolation or advice that seems to take things from bad to worse. If ministry is a freeway, we have missed the exit… and there is no bathroom for the next 100 miles.
Luckily, Jesus is the one driving. He always was. He always will be. Jesus’ promises in John 10 remind us that He is the one who leads students to himself. At the end of the day, our students belong to a Good Shepherd who will lead them and guide them exactly where he wants them to go in exactly the way he intends.
John 10 is a familiar and comforting passage to most of us: we picture gentle Jesus in a pasture with smiling sheep. But what might it mean to those of us engaged in ministry– especially on those days where we seem to whiff more often than not and the pasture feels more like a battlefield? John 10 reminds us of truths about Jesus as the Good Shepherd that offer hope, comfort, and encouragement for our ministries.
Jesus Knows Our Students Better Than We Do
John 10:15 tells us that the Good Shepherd knows His sheep in the same way He knows His Father. This striking statement reminds us that Jesus is as intimately acquainted with His sheep as He is with God the Father. Just as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one, so too is this Shepherd one with his sheep. This is more than just a knowledge of the sheep’s favorite candy and TV shows; this shepherd knows everything about his sheep, better than they know themselves. We can trust that Jesus knows our students far better than we ever could. He knows their hurts, their fears, their intricacies. This shepherd will meet students’ needs in specific, tangible ways in the places of their hearts accessible only to the one they are one with.
Jesus Lays Down His Life
As much as we love our students and seek to serve them sacrificially, none of us love to the point of laying down our lives. Not so with the Good Shepherd. Jesus explicitly tells his disciples that as the Good Shepherd, he lays down his life for his sheep (vs.11). He loves his sheep to the point of willingly handing over his life for theirs. The Good Shepherd is also the slaughtered Lamb of God. What comfort to know that Jesus knows and loves our students more than we do. We can confidently say with Paul that if Jesus did not spare his own life for them, how will he not also with him graciously give them all things (Rom. 8:32)? Especially when we cannot. When we feel helpless to care for our students, we have the assurance that our students belong to the Good Shepherd who loves them with a love that will go all the way to the cross on their behalf.
Jesus Has Ultimate Authority
When it comes to who really is in control of the spiritual well-being of our students, John 10 makes it abundantly clear. The Good Shepherd, the second person of the Godhead has the very power of God. For every one of our whiffs, every missed opportunity, every unwise phrase, Jesus is still in control. The Good Shepherd is so sovereign that when he lays down his life, he will take it up again (vs. 17). This Shepherd is stronger than the grave itself! And certainly, he is stronger than our failures—not to mention our successes. John 10 reminds us that while God graciously invites us to join along in shepherding as he redeems all of creation, all authority on heaven and earth has always belonged to him. We can minister from a place of rest and trust, knowing that the work of salvation belongs to God and God alone.
We Follow the Same Shepherd
As I was driving home from small group late one night, I received an unexpected call from my anxiety- laden friend. She told me that she had been studying for a test she had the next day. As she stared at her study guide, anxiety and fear began to take over. Then, she felt something lead her to a random devotional off her bookshelf given to her several Christmases ago. When she opened it to the entry for the day, it was all about not being anxious. God met her in this moment and gave her peace enough to close her binder, go to bed, and trust God with her test. The peace in her voice brought me to tears.
I know none of our coffee shop dates were in vain. God was at work. But in this moment, the Good Shepherd was doing what he does best: leading this student to himself in the way he saw fit. He knew her. He loved her. He had the final say over her life.
Lest we forget, we have the same Good Shepherd as our students. Just as we can trust him to be loving and sovereign in his leading of their lives, we too have the same blessed assurance. As we seek to point our students to the Good Shepherd, we are being led ourselves, never left defenseless or directionless. Our Shepherd loves his sheep. He will always be faithful to lead them to himself.