this edition of “overheard at my 7th grade guys group” is a bit different. because it doesn’t include any quotes.
instead, this past wednesday night was the worst small group time we’ve had this school year. the irony is, i spent more time preparing for our group than i had for any week this school year. i’d found an old piece of curriculum that fit what we were going to talk about, and had heavily modified it, creating what i thought were fun and active elements that would move the guys from the topic, into scripture, through speculation, and on to application.
but it was like pulling teeth, or herding cats, or… well… like leading a group of hyper 7th grade guys.
every one of them is awesome. i care deeply for them. and they want to be there — that’s clear. but we had a record turn-out (18 guys!!), and they just couldn’t stop talking or stay focused.
we had two good moments, maybe three, plus an important reminder for me.
good moment #1
prior to breaking for our 75-minute small group time, the middle school group played a game and had a short time of worship. the game, planned by our middle school pastor, was one i’d never seen, and it was brilliant. we played dodgeball with unopened rolls of toilet paper. our middle school room would never work for a regular dodgeball game. but toilet paper dodgeball takes a surprisingly small amount of room, and no one (and no walls or furniture or other fixtures) get hurt. just regular dodgeball rules, but with rolls of TP.
the big win was that our 7th grade guys dominated. it was awesome.
good moment #2
one of my youth ministry friends, a participant in the nashville cohort of my youth ministry coaching program, has had the most brutal week ever in his 2 month-long youth ministry career. wednesday morning, the father of two of his youth group girls committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. he spent the day at their house, grieving with them. but the most difficult moment was late in the day when the mom told them how their dad had died.
i was moved by the fact that one of the other YMCPers wrote (in our private facebook group) that her youth group had prayed for his youth group that night). so when, exasperated, we got to the time when we were going to pray in our small group, i asked my guys if we could do likewise. it was the only moment of the night when they got serious and focused. and it was holy ground, for about 60 seconds or so.
important moment (or, “good” moment #3)
after our prayer time, i asked the guys to wait a minute before we tore into our snack. i tried to choose my words really carefully, and not shame them or be punitive in my words or tone. i explained how much me and my co-leader love them, and look forward to being with them each week. and i went on to explain that we need a re-start next week, where we refocus on why we gather. it was a come-to-jesus moment, but hopefully one that was helpful rather than disciplinary.
the reminder for me
man, i have learned this over and over and over again. but i can say with complete honesty that it was good to be reminded that when it comes to middle school ministry, the best laid plans often don’t mean the best times together. i have to have open hands, offering up every aspect of my ministry attempts to god, not clutching to my own plans or dreams or expectations. and i have to trust that god will even use some aspect of that night as a means of spiritual transformation in the life of at least one of those guys.
oh, and i think i’m going to have to write a nasty note to the writer of the curriculum i used. some idiot named mark oestreicher. “dude, i know you meant well, but your stuff really didn’t work for me and my group!”