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Learning When to Hold Back

27 Jan Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on Learning When to Hold Back
Learning When to Hold Back

A few weeks ago, my family and I were spending a quiet night together in the living room. We played around with a few new games that my daughter received for Christmas, and then decided to browse through some of the classic Nintendo games available for download on her Wii. Games that were strange and foreign to her but utterly nostalgic for me. It didn’t take long before my credit card was in hand and we started downloading. And this is how, at the dawning of 2015, nearly thirty years after its creation I introduced my daughter Natalie to the original Super Mario Brothers video game.


There was jumping and laughing and screams of joy. Natalie was pretty excited too. She insisted that I go first. So, like a fearless leader I maneuvered through World 1 Level 1 with Mario in all his pixelated glory. I was instantly jolted back to the age of 9 (the same age Natalie is now), sitting on the floor in front of a huge cabinet television playing Super Mario Brothers on a Saturday morning.

As I glanced over at Natalie, who was sitting beside me, I was surprised to see a look of sadness, pity and slight disgust on her face. She stared at me for a moment and then said, “Dad, I’m so sorry. I feel so bad for you.” Apparently, the glorious description I had given her 15 minutes earlier during the downloading process had led to a bit of a letdown. 8-bit Mario just couldn’t compete with her High Definition expectations.

Not to worry though, we spent the next hour playing that crazy two dimensional game with its variety of limitations, glitches and caveman graphics. It turned into a great experience.

For me, it was a blast to connect Natalie to this part of my childhood. I loved watching her realize the differences between the Mario Brothers she knows and the one grew up with. The original certainly is more difficult than I remember. They didn’t give away coins and extra lives like they do today. There was no “save” button that allowed you to pick up where you left off. It was an all or nothing commitment.

The more we played the more tricks and secrets about the game I remembered. My brother and I must have spent a considerable amount of time playing, because we learned everything without the aid of secret codes and Youtube how-to videos.


It didn’t take long before I realized something strange. I had this tension between wanting Natalie to discover all the secrets I knew and showing them to her as I played. In some ways, at the end of the night I felt like I had robbed her of the joy I found as a kid, discovering those things on my own.

Learning to Hold Back in Student Ministry

We do the same thing in Student Ministry, I know I do. Sometimes we are so excited for our students to know and love God that we try to do it for them. Sometimes we don’t want see to them endure hardships, hurt and sorrow. We want them to know God NOW and we inadvertently try to bypass the time, effort, discipline and often messiness of the journey to do so.

At camp I often find myself trying to make everything perfect for my staff. I cringe at the thought of their hard work and service to God intertwined with difficult days, relationship crises or seemingly unnecessary aggravation. But we can’t fix everything. In fact, doing so can rob them of the process they need to truly grow. Trying to make life perfect for those we serve always leaves them unsatisfied and unconnected to God.

As you head off into the New Year, how will you care for the souls of your students by allowing them to discover God in the same ways you did as a young adult?


Here are 5 steps in the right direction:

1. Ask (or clarify) great questions.

Then, let your students struggle to find the answers. Jesus was famous for answering questions with questions. The process of discovery can help a student own the answer more deeply.

2. Spend time listening.

It deepens our relationship with God when we share the discoveries we make about Him. Taking the time to actively listen, lets students know that their story really matters. Putting words to what’s going on inside can help them respond more concretely to the work of God within.

3. Pray with and for your students.

Ask them to pray for you. Don’t just do the praying for them. Involve them in a process.

4. Share stories.

God uses His story (scripture) with your story to impact your students’ stories.

5. Be present.

Your students will always need you to walk with them, teach them, encourage them, rebuke them and love them.

May God bless you and use you mightily this year.

Ben Myers
Camp Director at Arrowhead Bible Camp
Ben Myers has served as the Camp Director at Arrowhead Bible Camp in Brackney, PA for the past 13 years. Arrowhead is a ministry committed to discipleship through its programs for adults with developmental disabilities, missions opportunities for youth groups, and mentoring of High School and College students. Ben also teaches as an adjunct professor at Lancaster Bible College and holds degrees from Cairn University and Baptist Bible Seminary.