3 Ways You’ve Misjudged Your Star Student
By Danielle Rhodes
Let me introduce you to a star student from my past (let’s call her Clara). I had the privilege of mentoring Clara while she was in high school. She was the captain of her high school volleyball team, was vice president of the student government, was in the top five percent of her class, led a small group of sixth graders, was involved in community theater, and played the flute beautifully.
For the first three years of our mentor-mentee relationship, I failed Clara. I never noticed her worried looks, her forced smiles, or how much weight she was losing. As an eldest child, Clara unofficially took over as caregiver for her younger siblings—but I never knew that. Her mother struggled with various addictions—but I never knew that. And because of these things, she found it difficult to trust God—but I never know that. Why? I never asked.
The summer before Clara’s senior year, she sprained her ankle badly. That sprain saved her life. For the first time ever, she had to stop caring for others and let them care for her. Our meetings were no longer filled with the greatest, newest things Clara was tackling. Rather, we reflected on the thoughts and pains she had avoided in the busyness of her past. As she found rest, her passion for God and her sense of purpose reignited.
I don’t believe that every “star student” is avoiding some deep pain, but I would like to address three mistakes that I made in my mentoring relationship with Clara.
1. I confused maturity with stability. Clara’s world was crashing down around her, and I didn’t notice because I falsely assumed she was mature enough to handle all of her responsibilities. I failed to offer her the support she needed. I enabled the belief that her struggles were not important.
2. I thought there was only one type of leader. Clara is naturally charismatic. I assumed that because of this natural gifting she would enjoy spearheading events. In truth, she hated it. She preferred to stay behind the scenes. Rather than fuel her passion as a developer, I squelched it by pushing her towards the type of leadership opportunities I thought she would excel at. I also failed to encourage other student leaders who could have stepped up to fill those roles. I never considered them because they were not naturally gifted in a leadership style I recognized.
3. I forgot my role. This is the hardest mistake for me to come to terms with. At some point during the first three years of mentoring Clara, I failed to be a mentor and became a peer. I ignored my role as a spiritual leader in her life and stopped asking the tough questions that would guide her deeper in her faith. I equated how happy she seemed with how successful I was as a mentor. Our meetings lost intentionality and turned into hangout sessions where we caught up on the last few weeks’ events. Without realizing it, I increased the leadership demands placed on her while withdrawing my support and discipleship from Clara’s life.
There is at least one in every ministry: that star student who stands out above the rest. This student is a natural leader, charismatic and engaging, loved by his or her fellow students and ministry leaders alike. These students probably find themselves regularly selected to carry out the responsibilities of leadership in school, church, and perhaps even in the home. Remember that your star students are still learning. They still need discipleship and encouragement as much as any of your other students.
CC Image courtesy Wen Nag (aliasgrace) on Flickr.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More