EMBRACE: Loving the Lost & Overlooked
“Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
- Luke 15:4-7
What’s the longest you’ve ever spent looking for something you really want to find?Maybe it was something as simple as misplacing your car keys and you spent three hours tearing the house apart searching, or maybe you were on the hunt for the best airline ticket and checked daily for three months, trying to get the best deal. Or maybe you lost your kid in Walmart—the fear that brings will never let us forget what it is like for someone we love to be lost. Whatever it is, is it not even more crucial that we look for the lost and overlooked as Jesus does and lovingly guide them into becoming part of the family of God?
A lot of times, especially in student ministry, leaders are naturally drawn to the outgoing and growing students who will talk to just about anyone and are growing in their faith. Naturally, it makes sense, as these are the ones who we know will do what we suggest in small group time, and it is easy to have spiritual conversations with them. There are many girls like this that I have genuinely become not just a leader to but friends with because we get along so well and can relate on many levels, as they remind me much of how I was at their age, hungry for God and desiring mentors to pour into me. Don’t get me wrong—these students NEED pouring into—but when our focus is only on the outgoing students who excel and those who have been in the ministry a long time, we neglect those who may be lost or simply overlooked.
My wise friend Jamie once said, “Don’t neglect the the student in the shadow for the student in the spotlight.”
When I was in charge of a VBS at a government-assisted apartment community this summer, I had authority over my team of middle and high school students of who got to do what—who got to teach the Bible lessons, lead craft time, games, and more. And naturally, I focused on giving leadership roles to the students I connected well with and the ones I saw evidence of spiritual growth in. And while, yes, you want students who are truly growing in Christ to lead the Bible lesson, the girl sitting alone in the corner who has never been the center of attention but spends hours drawing in her free time might have been a better leader for craft time because of her mad artistic skills. It took all week for me to notice and bring the overlooked students in my group into leadership roles because that wasn’t natural for me or them, but they ended up being some of the strongest and most humble student leaders I’ve ever seen.
If you lead a small group of students, or even adults, it’s likely there are some divisions of friends within it, as well as one or more students who just don’t really connect with anyone and sort-of blend into the background. A lot of times they do not even want to be there because of the strong isolation they feel from the others, whether the others intentionally exclude them or not. And often, we as leaders can unintentionally overlook them too, as they’re not normally the one to pipe up and answer the question or ask us to go get coffee. But to imitate Jesus, we must seek them out.
Jesus not only loves those who approach Him and want to know Him—He also loves the ones who feel unworthy by going out of His way to reach them.
Jesus did this time and time again—with the woman at the well, who had gone out of her way to avoid everyone because of her sinful past, with inviting Zacchaeus, the hated tax-collector, to eat with him when he was up in a tree where no one else even noticed him, and with healing the crippled, lame man at the pool of Bethesda, who had been overlooked for 38 years!
If we want to be like Jesus and be the best leader possible in hopes of reaching all with the gospel, we must love the lost and overlooked, as much as or even more intentionally than we love the ones who are outgoing and growing in Christ. Here are three practical tips to help you lovingly embrace the lost and overlooked:
Sit with them during service. The outgoing students in your group probably could care less if you sit with them, since they already have a group of friends to sit with, but intentionally asking if you can sit beside someone who is seated alone or someone you know is far from God is a great way to show that you care about them and to start a conversation.
Ask them to get a meal with you. A great time is after church on Sundays because if they don’t have a car, you can just run them home afterwards (obviously, get parent’s permission first!). Or you could meet before or after small groups, depending on when your church does them. If you can, pay for their meal—this is a simple way to go above and beyond loving them.
Check in on them throughout the week. This can be a quick text saying that you’re praying for them or even just wishing them a good day! This idea requires a little bit of a relationship before you can do it, but checking in on them two or three times throughout the week says you care SO much more than only talking to them once a week when you’re conveniently in the same room as one another. It shows you will go out of your way to embrace and love them.
I hope and pray that whatever ministry context you are currently serving in, you can find a way to implement one of these three steps to better embrace those who are often overlooked in our ministries!