Loving Tigers

They didn't prepare me for this. I learned how to preach, how to create a budget, how to lay hands on students and pray for them. But nowhere in my ministry preparation was I taught how to love a tiger, it just never happened. But now I had one coming to Church every Wednesday and causing chaos. What do you do when you have a tiger coming to your youth group?

Every summer our Church puts on a six week summer program for young people who desire to get closer to God. On the second week of the program as students are walking to their class, a father walks in asking if we could take his son. Registration had closed; we had no more space, and were already understaffed. What student ministry do you know that is OVER-staffed? I want to know their secret. Anyway, he began to explain how no one else would take him because of his issues and conditions. Nothing major: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and epileptic seizures. No big deal right? After much negotiation, we decided to accept him. After all, what would Jesus do? Maybe I shouldn't have asked that question. I didn't know what I was getting myself into.

I asked to meet him. This five foot nothing twelve year old walked in with his iPad and big head phones on, and like any good youth pastor I asked, “Hey man, what’s your name?” He looks me in the eye and says, “My name is Roberto”, he then points his finger to my face and says, “But you’re going to call me Tiger,” and our relationship began.

Here’s what I believe about you and every youth pastor or youth leader. You already have or will soon come in contact with YOUR Tiger. Mine was suicidal, always went missing, never ate the food we gave him, and one time preached the most heretical and biblically incorrect message I've ever witnessed. He then managed to run away from the team because someone told him that in the Old Testament false prophets were stoned. Those were fun times. Gotta love student ministry.

Sometimes as youth workers we actually run away from the “tigers”. We ask parents, volunteers, or interns to deal with them. We try to avoid them and focus on our “good” students, or on the students we like to be around because they listen to us. Not because we don't care, but because tigers have claws and we already go through enough, we didn't even sign up for this! THEY TOLD US TO HELP FOR A FEW MONTHS! And now on top of trying to get kids to youth group, we have to run away from Tigers.

But what if? What if...the Tigers that we run away from are actually the people God brought us to love?

As a Youth Worker I know that YOU KNOW that we should love every student, including the difficult ones. But I want to give you a reason that I don't think we think about enough.

There’s no doubt that God put us where we are to love students, particularly difficult Students, and there’s no doubt that these students need us. But as I begin to finish I want to submit an idea to you: Maybe we need the tigers we love more than they need us.

I believe God brought me into student ministry to change students, but I don't think I've thought enough about how God wants to use student ministry to change ME.

Many times I made student ministry about what God could do through me but not IN ME. I don’t think it’s one or the other, but rather both.

Here are three things God has done in me through my Tigers:

1. God has taught me that I have a lot to learn about love.

2. God has taught that I can’t change anybody, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

3. God has taught me, that I’m a “Tiger”, and he still loves me.

By the way, I'm still loving Tiger. Pray for him, he needs it, and pray for me because I still need him too.

I am praying for you as you go into the world and love tigers. I think God is going to do amazing things THROUGH you, but really hoping that you allow Him to do something IN YOU too...

By: Jonathan Rivera