My 8-year old is playing basketball in two different leagues this season. No, it’s not because he’s a phenom and needs the work. It’s because my wife and I didn’t communicate well enough and we each signed him up for a different league. But we’re basketball people, so we love that he gets the extra time on the court.
As he’s learning to play the game, he’s figuring out that the way he played as a 6- or 7-year old won’t fly in his new leagues. In one game recently, he had the ball in three straight trips down the floor. And three straight times he was called for traveling. One time, he was fine. Twice, he was a little annoyed. The third time though, he was visibly frustrated and embarrassed. I was frustrated too, but not at him. I knew the referee, so I yelled, “Wes, can you at least explain why you’re calling it? He doesn’t understand what he’s doing wrong!”
We do what we can in practice, but in a game situation, at that age level, the referees need to serve as instructors and not just arbiters of the rules, calling violations and then moving along.
As a youth pastor, I have to be careful to do that as well. I see my students make poor decisions. I seem them post things they shouldn’t. I know when they’re in detention. I see them in the community doing things they shouldn’t. But I can’t just blow my whistle and say, “You’re doing something wrong!” I need to take the extra time to walk them through what it means to follow Christ at all times and explain how to honor Him with our lives. I need to not only correct, but also instruct.
Paul did that in his letter to the Ephesians. He didn’t just call them out for their sin, he taught them what it looked like to imitate Christ (Ephesians 5:1). It takes more time. It slows the game down. It demands more of us to invest that time in our students. But it is what is required of us.
Let’s not just call fouls. Let’s walk with our students and teach them what it means to imitate Christ. Let’s correct and instruct. The effort we spend is well worth it.