Recently the youth ministry I am a part of took on a large project; moving our entire database to a new program. This process has been painful in a lot of ways. Researching and evaluating different programs, deciding which features were must haves and what wasn’t, and then the many tedious hours of migrating information, checking accuracy, and data entry. I am so thankful for those on the team that took on much of this responsibility.

There was one part of this process that was all mine, and it was possibly…no definitely WAS painful for me. I was given a print out of our entire student list in the old program and had to decide which students should be included in the new list and which ones shouldn’t. As I read through the names, there were a few that reminded me of huge ministry “wins”, but there were a whole lot more that represented failures. Right there, in black and white, staring back at me were students that had fallen away or fallen through the cracks.

As I wrestled with who to cross out and who to leave, there were a few scriptures that popped into my mind. First was the parable that Jesus taught in Luke 15 about a lost sheep:

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. (Luke 15:4-5, NLT)

The other concept was when Jesus instructions were to basically cut your losses and move on.

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. (Matthew 10:14 NLT)

We see Paul and Barnabas live this out in Acts:

So they shook the dust from their feet as a sign of rejection and went to the town of Iconium. And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:51-52 NLT)

So the question at hand is this: how do I know which ones are sheep and which ones are dust?

The long answer is—I don’t.

So now what?

Do my very best
Whether any student will be sheep or dust is not my choice, it is theirs. The only way I am going to know what they choose is to try to reach them, pray for them, and pursue them as much as is appropriate.

Help those that want to be helped
If their attitudes and actions reveal they don’t want to be helped or ministered to, then I need to shake off the dust and move on to someone that does. Jesus knew it, and so do we; life change and transformation will only happen if they want it to and then allow God to work. Looking at that list I realized how much of my time and effort has been spent chasing after sheep that weren’t really sheep at all.

The students that I realized had not been pursued were left on the list, so we can do our part. The students on the list I knew had been pursued and pushed us away were crossed off. I still have hope that they will someday be sheep, but as for now I am not going to let the dust build up and hold us back.

Brian Seidel is the Lead Youth Worker at Cloverdale Church of God in Boise, ID. You can check out his resources on DYM here.