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The "Neat Kid" syndrome

Years ago, when my husband and I were teaching teen Sunday school, there was a student I wasn't quite sure about. He was a bit of a trouble maker, a little disruptive, bordering on disrespectful, but with a charming smile and disposition. He seemed to be well-liked, but he reminded me a little too much of a class clown who knows how to charm the teacher. One of the other leaders did not agree with me about this young man. She thought he was a "neat kid," and thought his outgoing nature said something about his Christian character.

Today, this young man is not living for the Lord. In fact, from what I understand, since he left high school, his life bears very little resemblance to that of an individual professing to be a Christian. I am not even aware that he claims to be a Christian. Meanwhile, there are many quiet, reserved, unassuming young men and women who were never viewed as "neat," but who are today thriving in their relationship with the Lord.

We talk about how the culture of celebrity has infiltrated the Church, but I think at the root of a cult of celebrity is a cult of personality. We tend to think that an outgoing personality is evidence of a sanctified life. Someone who will get up and share without hesitation, or is willing to get up in front of people and speak must be someone who is using his gifts for the Lord. The shy, apprehensive individual must be hiding his light under a bushell, no?

Often, these outgoing people are viewed as natural leaders because they are willing to take the leadership. In my experience, however, often the best leader is the one who is cautious about taking it on. I tend to be very suspicious anyway, but I'm always a little apprehensive about the individual who talks more about his leadership than God. Our task is to live so that attention is given to God, not ourselves.

My husband would never have been considered a "neat kid" growing up. He was bookish, physically small, and avoided the spotlight. Even today, he does not like having attention drawn to him. That doesn't mean he is not a godly man. He loathes small talk, and at a gathering, he's not the one kibbitzing with everyone. More than likely, he's on the outer fringe of the room wondering when he can go home. But he's trustworthy, discreet, kind, and humble. When I was a youth leader, I loved to see quiet, serious kids, and I didn't like it when others perceived them as some kind of dead weight simply because they were afraid to get up in front of others and share a toothbrush with five other people or eat some grotesque concoction while being blindfolded. 

One thing my kids have shared with me now that they are adults is that teenagers can often learn to play the game well. If a kid grows up in a church, he quickly sees what kind of conduct garners approval from parents and leaders. A kid can fake it for a long time within the confines of the youth group. When they get out on their own, or there is a crisis, the reality of their faith is proved, regardless of whether they are a neat kid or bland as dry toast. When we're watching young people grow, looking for spiritual fruit rather than a charming disposition is far more crucial. Sometimes, a "neat kid" can be covering for a lack of spiritual fruit, while someone less gregarious is demonstrating meekness or humility.

God can use people even if they aren't "neat." Even boring, serious folks like me can be used.

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