7.10.2013

The Best Lesson I’ve Taught On Integrity

We’ll come back to our study of sin in Genesis 3, but I wanted to have a change of pace today.

One of the foundational lessons I’ve learned from my years of youth ministry is this: regardless of what I teach to my students in Bible class, the loudest message they hear from me is the one I proclaim by the way I live my life on a daily basis.

And that’s not really a ground-breaking observation—we have common sayings in our culture that illustrate that our actions matter more than our claims or words (“Do as I say, not as I do”, “Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk”)—but a recent event hammered this home to me more so than ever before.

Every summer our youth group spends a week at Green Valley Bible Camp, and I work as a counselor. Green Valley is a great place with a lot of fun and meaningful activities, and one of the long-standing camp traditions is that on Friday afternoons, there is an All-Star softball game between the men counselors and the senior boy campers.* The All-Star game is kind of a big deal, especially for the campers, for whom it serves as some sort of coming-of-age rite of passage and an opportunity to talk trash to yours truly all year. 

Anyway, in this year’s game, the campers shot out to a significant early lead while the counselors struggled mightily. We hit very poorly for the first couple of innings, but finally we got a bit of a rally going: down several runs, we managed to score a couple and then had runners on second and third with two outs. 

[On the senior softball field at Green Valley, there is a big tree in foul ground down the third base line, with a large branch that reaches out over fair territory. The ground rules that we played with this year (sometimes they change from year to year depending on who the umpires are) were that any ball that hit the branch was automatically foul.]

The next hitter got up and hit a towering shot down the third base line that just barely nicked a few leaves from the overhanging branch. It didn’t alter the flight of the ball in anyway, and neither umpire was able to tell that it had hit the branch at all. It soared into the outfield past the left fielder; both runners would have easily scored, and we would have been right back in the game.

Except…

I was the third base coach at the time, and since I was standing right by the overhanging branch, I could easily see and hear that the ball had hit it. I let the umpire know, and it was ruled a foul ball. On the next pitch, the batter popped out to the pitcher. The rally ended, and we never really challenged again in the game. We ended up losing 10-4, and I will now get to hear taunts from my students for the next year about how they beat us. So, it was kind of a bummer.

Except…

One of my students was playing shortstop for the campers team, and witnessed all that had happened. He was keenly aware of how big of a hit that would have been for us and how it could have changed the game. Since that moment (almost three weeks ago now), he has brought it up about six times and has talked about how awesome it was that I spoke up and told the truth regardless of the fact that it hurt my team.

I did some figuring, and I think I’ve taught the youth group about 700-800 times during my years at Farmington. And probably dozens of times, I have taught about the importance of honesty and integrity, either as the focus of a lesson, or mentioned it in passing. But it became clear to me that none of those lessons made as much of an impression on this particular as a simple action that I did at camp without thinking. Regardless of what I teach to my students in Bible class, the loudest message they hear from me is the one I proclaim by the way I live my life on a daily basis.

I’m not sharing this story so that I can be the hero. I am not a hero; I make a lot of mistakes, and there are definitely times when I fail as an example. I share it because it illustrates how important it is that we as parents, youth ministers, church leaders, etc. back up the things that we teach by the way that we live. I shudder to think what would’ve happened if I had kept my mouth shut and let the incorrect call stand—would this student have ever listened to me again when I talked about honesty and integrity, or would he have tuned me out since my actions wouldn’t have matched up with my teaching?

But by God’s grace, that’s not what happened. Instead, I was able to take advantage of an opportunity to teach a better lesson on integrity than all of those which I had spent hours and hours preparing.

*Here, “senior” doesn’t necessarily mean “senior in high school” (though some of them are), but rather is just the oldest of three divisions that the campers are split into. Usually the campers in the senior division are all high school kids. There are also All-Star games between the women counselors and the senior girl campers, and games for the younger kids as well, but those aren’t pertinent to the story I am telling.

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5 comments:

Mike Raine 7/10/13, 11:41 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Raine 7/10/13, 11:42 AM  

Great life lesson my dear Brother Luke. Without integrity a person is just a hollow breeze. I am proud of you no matter how the kiddos rag you. But one word of caution so it will not come as a surprise, you will spend your eternity in heaven in the dug-out.
Kiwi Mike

Marion Bailey 7/11/13, 6:19 PM  

Luke, once again, good teaching and a lesson we all need to consider. You never know who may be watching!

Luke Dockery 7/12/13, 10:39 AM  

Mike,

I don’t think anyone has to stay in the dugout in heaven!

Luke Dockery 7/12/13, 10:39 AM  

Marion,

Thanks, and I agree. No matter what we say, those who watch us and look up to us will always be more influenced by what we do!

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