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My Charity Work is More Degrading Than Yours: Lessons in Leadership from Middle School Fellowship – Part 3

March 26, 2009

In spite of all the chaos associated with leading the middle school youth group, I have grown to love these kids. After feeling initially terrified about how to interact with them (am I cool enough? Will they think I’m a geek? Will I be too strict?), I soon loosened up and actually got to know them. Much to my surprise, I discovered that they each have distinct personalities and interesting ways of viewing the world. When you get past all the farting and punching and spitting and throwing things and celebrity gossip, you find that they actually have opinions! I told Reece, “You know, you’d be surprised that there are actual human beings under there, if you look close enough.” And that, my friends, was my startling discovery about working with young teenagers. They are really just younger versions of adults. Or maybe we are older versions of thirteen-year-olds.

At the end of each meeting, before everyone goes home, we circle up in small groups for a brief time of discussion and prayer. This is the part where, in theory, you can break through all the fun and games and delve in to some serious theological conversations.


The other night it went like this:

Me:                 “Ok kids, time to pray. Does anyone have any prayer requests?”

Brittany:       “My friend’s gramma is dying”

Me:                 “OK. We’ll pray for her.”

Kaitlynn:       “One of our teachers commit suicide last week”

Me:                  Yikes! (Calmly, like I knew all about it) “OK, yeah, I heard about that. That’s real sad”

Kaitlynn:        “Yeah, she was like involved in drugs and she was like really depressed because her husband left her”

All:                   (Excited chatter and sharing of bits of gossip. Kaitlynn knew WAY too much.)

Me:                  “Ok, Ok kids let’s focus.” (This phrase occurs quite a lot with me and the middle school kids) “Alright, we’ll pray for the teacher and the family. Anyone else? For prayer?”

Brendan:       “We should pray that the cops catch the killer of the lady who was cut up into pieces and put into different garbage bags and thrown out of the car window onto the highway.”

Me:                  (Thinking) OMG! I just heard about this on the news during dinner.  Apparently, so did Brendan. Why do these kids have to be exposed to so much horrible violence? Deep sigh. “Yes, we’ll pray for the killer to be found”

I paused for moment as the kids who hadn’t yet heard about this brutal crime got all worked up, trying to find out more details from Brendan.  “You know, guys,” I interrupted, “I wish you didn’t have to even hear about things like that. It must make you feel scared sometimes.” They seemed unfazed.

We huddled up real close, and prayed for the gramma, and the teacher’s family, and, yes, for God to help the cops find the killer. Then I asked God to show these kids how much He loves them. I don’t know how or where or when, but please let these kids know God’s love. Everyone is quiet for a moment as I finish the prayer. I sense the peace of Christ piercing their hearts.

“Amen!” we all say, holding our hands tightly together. Then one of the boys farts and the kids break up into fits of laughter and disgust.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2009 11:22 pm

    it must be like a rollercoaster ride !

  2. March 27, 2009 5:03 am

    This is all too true. Some 25 years ago, a friend persuaded me to co-teach junior high boys — 7th and 8th graders — in Sunday School. It took all of one class for me to realize that carefully planned lessons were absolutely useless, that it was better to loosely organize the teaching and prayer and leave plenty of time for dealing with discipline issues.

    We told the kids the process for discipline. Most listened. I learned not to get too upset when the designated troublemakers (designated by themselves) decided it was class disruption time. The troublemakers discovered that we followed the process for discipline, and — kid in tow — would pull their parents out of Adult Sunday School or the worship service and hand the kid over.

    One Sunday, the teacher for the junior high girls was sick, and I was asked to teach both the boys and the girls. And a remarkable thing happened — the boys sat there, seemingly attentive to the lesson but actually petrified of doing something dumb in front of the girls. I asked — no, I begged — the Sunday School coordinator to keep the classes together. But it wasn’t to be, and the next Sunday things were back to normal.

  3. March 27, 2009 7:44 am

    I smiled as I read about your “charity work” – parts 1, 2, and 3. My son will turn 14 next month. Although I have not mustered up the courage to help with our church youth program, I can so relate to what you have written when I observe my son with his friends. I’m thankful for people like you who take the time to listen to teens, get to know their distinct personalities, and conclude that they are actual human beings under there. Thank you! Nola

  4. hurc permalink
    March 27, 2009 2:43 pm

    Hi Brad,
    It is amazing how most of my colleagues also speak about this age group (if not kids over 2 or walking); colleagues not necessarily close friends but close enough to take heed. Most exec’s in my world are thankful they can rely on others to take care of their kids, raise their kids, and parent their kids.

    You deserve some heavenly reward my friend – when you consider how many kids you are really impacting and responsble for.

    Your visualization or “sense of the peace of Christ piercing their hearts”; caught me off guard with a sudden gasp myself. I think we all need a daily dose of that.

    This world has some bad stuff happening, and it is tough enough for adults digest. Our kids have no buffer today with the way media permeates our world with the breaking news, amber alerts, man hunts, and so on.

    I am sure these kids are going to speak to your dedication, insights, caring, and sharing long after you are gone.


  5. Annie permalink
    March 27, 2009 10:49 pm

    I, too, help teach a group of middle schoolers at our church. They fascinate me, overwhelm me and just liven up my spirit!!! Yes, there are times when bodily noises occur and prays are lifted for favorite sports teams to win. But overall, they show signs of getting what being a Christian is all about. And the impact we are making on each others’ lives is priceless.

  6. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    March 29, 2009 1:39 pm

    Wow – great comments!
    Glynn- hilarious about the boys going on best behavior when they had to sit with girls. I love your way of describing the “self-designated” trouble makers.

    Annie- Been there and done that, eh? You can relate.

    These are all great kids, even the “trouble-makers” have some pretty amazing gifts that you hope get channeled in the right direction as they mature.

    Much of this is written tongue-in-cheek, because sometimes you leave a meeting and feel like “Did anything more than babysitting happen in there?” But once in a while you’ll get those moments where you know that something just might be getting through, and it’s all worth it.

    Thanks for everyone’s thoughts!

  7. March 29, 2009 10:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing the reality and blessings of middle school work. I have two middle school boys, and they’re a crazy roller coaster of hyper/tender/farty/funniness. It’s so fun, though, to get those glimpses of maturity at suprising moments. Thanks for taking the time to “get” them. That’s what they need.

  8. March 30, 2009 9:42 pm

    not about scripture…but, i got a few words put down.

  9. April 2, 2009 8:53 am

    The prayer circle – I can totally see it.

    I used to teach middle school Spanish, Brad. When I needed to regain control, I promised to tell them a story, like How to Make a Cow Fart, or Three Good Uses for Gun-powder.

    Worked every time, although I’m fairly sure they don’t remember any Spanish.

  10. September 21, 2009 12:13 am

    Thank you for referring me here, as I’m new to your blog and remarkably low on free time to browse, despite my comments layered everywhere in the blogosphere…. 🙂

    I am the opposite. Rather, I am less comfortable in a board room. I will begin an ADULT study next month and am a little nervous. Kids of the the middle school age are an excellent match for my mentality.

    The defining moments when you reach one, the aha! faces when they get it…. Those glimpses of the adult they are growing into.

    One of the boys the other night was so honest, “Adults can never agree on anything… was it the Big Bang, or creation?” I turned it over to what they thought, which was a giggling good time, but then I opened the Bible, took a breath, and read, “God spoke…”

    Can you imagine what it’d be like to have that kind of power??? Can you imagine what THEY imagined? Theology became not so important and the wonder of their creator filled their minds!!! Hmmm… It’s beautiful.

    I brought them back, as you are right, a constant feat at this level, and just said, “You know, don’t underestimate your capacity to digging in and figuring things out for yourself. You may be a 7th grader, but you have wondrous minds”

    They were all shocked. I don’t think kids hear that enough. I mean, not one of the kids spoke, they all stared at me like I had said the most profound thing they’d ever heard…. and for one in particular, I think it was.

    Now kindergartners… I could barely handle it just with my two at home when they were that age… everyone finds their way to amazing new gifts in very suprising ways.

  11. January 5, 2012 9:26 pm

    Brad, is this you? I was working on something and ran across the Shrinking the Camel icon. I was unaware of this blog, but found it hilarious, on target, and well-written. I was actually looking for the web site Marine friend who was just promoted to full colonel. One my first memories of him he was sitting on the ground out in front of our Church with a couple of young guys. Not realizing what was going on, I struck up a conversation. i finally realized this we the beginning of a jr. high boys class in our then infant Church. And here sits a Lt. Colonel teaching the class. What kind of an example do you think that set? Keep up your good work, Sir. I have an idea God is using you in ways and at times when you don’t even have a clue.

  12. January 6, 2012 6:21 am

    Hey, Don, yes it is I! Don’t know how you came across this ancient post, but it’s a good one, eh? I know that you are setting a good example as well. Thanks for the good words, as always.

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