Youth workers can learn a lot from Algebra 1 teachers

As a youth pastor, one of my favorite times of the year is graduation. I love the pomp and circumstance as friends, family, and fellow youth pastors gather in the stands at the local high school celebrating this amazing milestone of our students.

Over the past few years I’ve been contemplating my job as youth pastor and the role that I play in the lives of my students, these soon to be graduates. And in my thinking, I saw the way these teachers went about their work as so different from the way I work as a youth pastor. These teachers would teach history, chemistry, or algebra and then simply pass-on their students to the next class. I looked at the way I went about my work as youth pastor in a completely different manner.

I had been tasked with the God given role of being spiritual mentor to these students for their high school careers, and maybe even for their entire lives! But the more I’ve reflected on the role of the teacher and the role of the youth pastor, I’ve come to realize that my desire to be the number one spiritual mentor for my students for high school and beyond is well intentioned, but not very realistic! Here’s what I’ve come to realize . . .

Those teachers who sit in the first few rows at the graduation ceremonies? The way they teach teenagers is actually pretty close to the way we teach teenagers.

Take the average Algebra I teacher. Algebra I gets a bad rap. It can be pretty boring and it at least seems irrelevant to the normal world. It’s pretty easy for most students to check out of Algebra. Maybe they squeak by with a C. The problem, however, is that in reality Algebra is the lynch pin for future academic success! It’s the foundation on which future math classes are based. And since math is a key subject to graduate high school and college, Algebra I is pretty important.

A good Algebra teacher teaches the subject with clarity and passion. He or she understands the role, and knows that if students never get Algebra, they won’t be as successful in their education. And for the few students who will fall in love with math and want to pursue it in college and maybe as a career, it will have been the Algebra I teacher that set the stage for that to happen.

Unfortunately for the average Algebra I teachers, they don’t seem to receive much credit. They teach the basic class to all freshmen in high school. When they do their job well, it’s the Calculus teacher (years later) who sees the fruit. But here’s what I think. I think Algebra I teachers understand this. I think they find joy in it.

They love that they set a firm foundation and someone else builds on it. And that the result is a student who thrives academically.

Which leads me back to me. And to you, for that matter. If we faithfully fill our roles, we should be launching students into college with a firm foundation of faith, ready to thrive spiritually, and connect with new Christian leaders. When students come back for Christmas or Summer break, and speak of the brilliance of their college pastor, or how a certain author is rocking their world, we can’t be jealous or insecure. Rather we should be like the Algebra I teacher, finding joy that the foundation that we laid has been built upon by another.

And that an amazing “house” is coming together for the glory of God.

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:5