overheard at my 7th grade guys small group (or, a reminder of a lesson i’ve learned hundreds of times)

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.

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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!”

10 thoughts on “overheard at my 7th grade guys small group (or, a reminder of a lesson i’ve learned hundreds of times)”

  1. Mark,

    Great thoughts and reminders. I am over both middle school and high school ministries at my church and sometimes the middle school side runs me up a wall. I don’t feel as if I am communicating with them and really making an impact. I also do our 7th grade guys small group so I know what you mean.

    Austin

  2. So we had a record number of peeps in our Junior High class yesterday. I actually feared that the morning would derail as leaders get confused in the chaos. I’ve seen big groups go bad so fast and had small classes become really special. Well GOD was in control and the class was great from games to worship to lesson! I guess GOD still does what GOD wants to do when He wants to do it. My preconceived ideas are just potter’s clay to Him!

  3. I’m a volunteer in the youth group at my church and after 3 years of being there I had the WORST small group session I think I’ve ever had (the funny thing is it happened just last night and it was with my high schoolers who are normally really good.) Nobody could focus throughout the entire thing, whenever we tried to focus one student kept answering questions with a half serious but mostly trying to be funny answer that threw everyone off again. I left tired, frustrated, and with a headache. This had really come at a bad time because for a while now I’d been starting to really wonder about my leadership abilities and if God really wanted to trust me with the care of teenage souls. This article came at the perfect time. It’s good to have the reminder that God is in control of His ministry and even when it seems like I fail He is still working. Thanks for the reminder! (Kind of as a P.S./off topic side note we went to a winter retreat that you spoke at about 2 years ago and we still have students that talk about the impact of that weekend. After that weekend one of the students decided that he wanted to go into youth ministry. Thanks for all you do Marko!)

  4. Marko, I really appreciated this post. Last week I also had the worst small group time with my 6th grade guys… Actually it was probably the worst small group time I’ve ever been a part of in my middle school ministry career. I left feeling so discouraged and questioning if I actually know what I’m doing or talking about. We had a similar “come to Jesus” moment that I’m hoping will stick with the guys for this week. It’s good to know I’m not the only “professional” middle school guy that sometimes struggles to have quality small group time.

  5. Sounds like there is this small difference between your JH small group and mine:
    You have a bad night once in a while, and I have a good night once in a while!

  6. After having a few small groups that seemed to have more ‘bad’ nights than ‘good’…I started to wonder if the groups had taken my personality, as they do, and that might be the thing that keeps them from settling down to have the real hearty discussion one would hope for.
    My thoughts wander, I make a joke when the opportunity is there, I talk with the guy next to me if we’re quiet…and so, I’m not surprised when I see this in a group of guys I lead.
    So, in my grand experiment, I’m trying to be more disciplined in my actions as a leader if I want my guys to be more disciplined in their actions as students.
    Always remembering – some nights we all just need to go nuts and throw what was planned out the window.

  7. needed that (and love the TP game, we’ve played in the past too, helps to remember a post game involving cleanup)

  8. I haven’t felt too bad on the YM side of things but I did feel the same feelings many here have expressed leading a group of men in our church. I never felt so low…but so assured that I love working with teens!

    Many of our plans, lessons included, fail, but thank God He redeems even our failed attempts.

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