I recently moved to a beach community named Encinitas, in the San Diego area. I live less than a 10-minute drive to the ocean, making it convenient to pick up a new hobby – surfing.

For a couple of months, I went out on my own, which resulted in splitting a 9-foot foam board in half (see pic above). Not easy to accomplish even if I tried.

In reality, for the last couple of months, I really haven’t been surfing. 

More like…

  • I do a lot of paddling to the point my arms feel like they are on fire. 
  • 75% of the time, I miss the wave. 
  • When I do actually catch the wave and try to stand on the surfboard, I immediately fall off.

It’s been a mostly frustrating experience, up until last week when I finally started surfing lessons with a guy named Richard Fox (cool name, right?). He made all the difference in the world!

The first thing he helped me do was to choose the right surfboard. After my big 9-foot board split, I got a new 8-foot board. Richard looked at the board and told me it would be good for a 12-year-old kid, but not me (ouch… punch to ego).

What I needed was a 10-foot foam board. What?!?!? That’s huge…and really heavy! I resisted that idea and gave him all the reasons I wanted a smaller board. But he didn’t budge. So, I got the board. After one day on it, I was soooooo glad I got it! It was exactly what I needed. I guess this Richard guy knew what he is talking about.

Above: My new 10-foot surfboard.

Now that I had the right board, Richard helped me with nearly everything else.

He told me to move up a couple of inches on the board, how to read the waves, when to pop up on the board, when to catch a wave, the best surf spot for beginners, and so much more.

Above: A quick view of my favorite surf spot at San Elijo State Park.

Having an experienced surfer giving feedback in real-time was exactly what I needed. In the second lesson, I was able to catch 6-8 waves all the way in. I was on cloud nine!

My journey learning to surf is a wonderful illustration of the student and youth leader relationship.

Seeking out an experienced mentor was a game-changer for me. And students who seek out youth leaders for mentorship and discipleship can experience significant spiritual growth… and that can be a game-changer for them.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

1/ Mentor and disciple the students who are ready.

If I met Richard at the surf shop and he was pushy about taking surf lessons, I would have run the other way. After months on my own, I finally got to the point that I wanted someone’s help, and then I eagerly searched for that person.

Not every student in your youth group is ready for a mentorship or discipleship relationship. Forcing it on students turns them away, or they agree out of obligation, which will only backfire. You simply provide the opportunity. Get out of the way and let God do His thing. When those that are ready approach you, then go for it. Game on.

2/ A big part of discipleship is walking alongside of students in their everyday lives.

Richard would teach me something about how to pop up on the board or how to catch a wave. At that point, it was head knowledge. I knew what to do. But putting it into action was much more difficult. I had to practice, learn from my mistakes, then come back to Richard for more feedback. He would cheer me on when I did well, and help me to believe in myself when I failed.

A similar process happens in discipleship. You teach students how to nurture their relationship with God, and how to live out the teachings of Jesus. Then, you talk with them about how they’re applying that in the lives. They share their struggles, failures, frustrations, and success with you. You cheer them on, and share some more wisdom with them. This process continues over and over again.

What I just explained is Jesus’ model with the 12 disciples. He spent a big chunk of his time pouring into their lives. Teaching. Correcting. Modeling. Encouraging. 

3/ Discipleship is an ongoing, never-ending process.

I know. I know. You already know that. Please hear me out.

I’ve been told that surfing is a never-ending journey. You’re always learning something new. You never have it mastered. There’s always a new wave to ride. So, be patient. Enjoy it.

The same is true of discipleship. It’s a life-long process. You’re present for just a few years in the lives of students. They’re not going to get it all right. They’ll mess up. God is the one who put the desire in their hearts to follow Jesus, and He’ll continue to move in their lives. 

So, be patient with how that unfolds. Usually, it doesn’t look like you think or want it to. Let go of and surrender those expectations, trusting that God is ultimately in control. 

Final Thoughts

I went to a local surf shop, Hansen’s, a few days ago with my wife, Jena, looking for a bigger leash for my new surfboard (something Richard told me I needed). I knew he worked there, so I was hoping to see him. I tracked him down and introduced him to Jena. I was happy that she finally met the guy I had been talking about for weeks.

Richard told me what leash to buy, then gave me some more surfing tips. It was like he went from the “normal guy who works at a surf shop” to “surfing yoda” on the spot. 

At that moment, I was grateful for Richard, who helped me figure out something that previously was a big source of frustration. He empowered me to break through a barrier that I couldn’t on my own. That’s pretty cool.

The more time goes by, the more students who will be grateful for your involvement in their lives. For pointing them to Jesus. For being a mentor and role model. For being a part of what God is doing in their lives. You’ll help them break through some barriers of their own, and help them become fully devoted followers of Jesus.

– Nick Diliberto, Ministry to Youth

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  1. Shirley Van Noy
    • September 1, 2020

    Hi Nick! I live just up the road in Vista! The students I work with have always loved your videos. I would play parts of them from you training. We are a church plant so we don’t have a full time Youth Pastor, so just helped get things started! Would love it if you made some video’s just for the students and not just for the teachers. My students LOVED your story of driving a car when you were 14! Anyway welcome to the area!!!!

    Reply 1 Response
    1. Nick Diliberto
      • September 1, 2020

      Hi Shirley, that’s awesome. I know exactly where Vista is…real close. Glad your students liked those videos 🙂


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