I recently had the opportunity to meet one of my personal heroes, Author and speaker Francis Chan. I was so excited to meet him (albeit briefly) after he finished speaking at his session at a convention in my area, that I bolted from my seat, and I must admit rather rudely made my way to the front area where he was meeting a few people, I left my backpack and all my valuables and the friends I was sitting with behind. I knew that this may be my one and only chance to shake his hand and say a few words of encouragement to him. I was determined not to miss this opportunity and would let nothing or no one, stop me. Once I was face to face with him, I thanked him for what he had spoken, and for the books he had written and how they've impacted my life as a Christian and pastor. Then I asked for a picture. That was it. the whole thing probably took no more than 3 minutes. I'm happy to say that He's as genuine and humble as he portrays.
Have you ever stopped to think about what it is about our heroes that make us go to personal extremes just to shake their hand or even get an autograph? What makes them a hero? is it writing a book, having their own podcast or a large ministry? Is it someone who travels to multiple conventions to speak, has their own DVD series or webcast? or is a hero someone who just does the duty that God gave them faithfully and their faithfulness attracts the attention of everyone around them? There is nothing wrong with having people you admire, but we must teach our students and ourselves that they are just people.
To build or destroy...
Heroes can be a positive and a negative source of influence in our lives. Positively, they can help us to improve our skills, become closer to God or inspire us to greatness. Negatively, heroes can rob us of our sense of self by our constant attempt to imitate them, they can disappoint with their words or actions, they can shift our focus off God and unto them, making them our idols. In reality, our heroes are just people. regular, people who have a God given gift and insight that help the rest of us when we face an issue or need some growth.
We all have people in our lives that we admire, that have helped to shape us into the people we are today. It is necessary for human development, and as youth pastors, we must do a better job at helping our students pick and discern between heroes who will build them up into greatness and heroes who will destroy their lives. Popular culture has a warped view of heroes, they say that to be a hero you must either do something impossible, help during a disaster or tragedy or have some sort of talent that will reach millions. (i.e. music, acting, etc) but what about those heroes that live their lives plainly?
I speak of the Pastor who has shepherded a single flock in a small community in the middle of nowhere? what about the military chaplains who minister to the soldiers in the theatre of war and has the unfortunate task of performing one too many funerals for fallen soldiers? or the single mom who works 2-3 jobs and still takes time to spend with her kids and make lives as special as possible? we could go on and on about people who are heroes that go unnoticed, but the point is that we need to ensure that our students seek to pattern their lives, not after some pop culture icon or simply imitate they way they dress or act.
A true hero
The one marker of a true hero is that they make us believe that we can be better than we are. They inspire us to pursue greatness, not for our selves but for others. We in the Christian world have the greatest hero of all, but sometimes we forget that. No, this will not turn into the sunday school version of what a Hero is. (its Jesus if you didn't know) The great draw back from students patterning their lives after a person is that they're patterning their lives after a human being. a person with flaws and weaknesses that may or may not be visible.
Nothing hurts our hearts more than when our heroes fall. It can be so disheartening for a "fan" to see the person they admire be dragged through the mire of sin. This is why it is important for us youth pastors to remind our students constantly that even thought these people are great, and may be incredibly wise, that they are flawed beings just like us and that we must hold on to the good things that they are teaching or modelling.
This is a very valuable lesson for us youth pastors as well, since to some teens eyes, we are the closest thing to a hero they may every have. We must be diligent in showing them the true hero (Jesus) while at the same time keeping our spirits nourished and strong. This can be difficult as we continue to fight the never ending battle versus the enemy for the souls of our teens. Yet, it is imperative to keep our relationship with God strong. It is He who makes true heroes.
In my younger days, I loved reading super-hero comic books. (I still, like to read comic books) one of the most interesting heroes is the Green Lantern. For those of you who were deprived of this childhood rite, the Green Lantern draws his superpower from a ring that lets him create energy constructs of whatever he can imagine. The only drawback to this power was that the ring had a limited supply of energy and needed to be recharged with the help of a green lantern battery. This is a very interesting metaphor for life in ministry, for as long as we have our spirits charged with the power of that comes from God, we can be true heroes to our teens. we have the power to do more than we could ever imagine and it is not only limited to us, but we can show our students that they can also build such a relationship with the Lord that they can also do great and marvellous things for the glory of God.
The dream of every youth pastor is to see our students become greater "heroes" than we can ever be.