flash of 6th grade understanding

we were trying to talk about worship in our 6th grade guys small group last night. that’s not too disimilar to me trying to explain the trinity to my 2 year-old dog (like the old far side comic, he’d hear: blah, blah, blah, cully, blah, blah, blah).

we started by talking about worship of other stuff — good and bad. it was hard for them to not slip right back into god-talk. but they seemed to get it. but then we rounded the corner to good ol’ worship of god. you guessed it — they instantly went to singing. and it was clearly the “act” of singing they were talking about. i tried a handful of questions to get at ‘the heart of worship’ (hey! let’s get back to that!). nuthin’. they only seemed to understand worship in terms of actions.

i had a brain-flash (god gave me?): next to me was the song packet i’d just been given to start rehearsing for our middle school worship band. i grabbed the packet and shushed them and told them to listen and watch. then i started singing one of the songs. of course they laughed at me. then i asked them if i was worshipping. mixed response (we voted). i asked one of the “no” votes why. he said it didn’t look like i meant it (ooh, i could tell we were almost getting somewhere). i did it again, but this time i closed my eyes and looked really earnest (this, by the way, has been the annoying “i’m really worshipping now” sign on my church’s worship team for years — there’s one guy who, i’m convinced, doesn’t even have eyeballs; his eyes are perpetually closed to show us all how totally worshippy he is. i want to beat the crap out of him, which is slightly different than the effect he likely hopes he’s having.). this time, after looking earnest, they all said i was worshipping. i said, “i was faking; why did you think i was worshipping?”

the guys were totally into this now — it was like a little exploration-adventure for them. their little pre- to mid-pubescent brains were firing like mad, telling them they were going into a new abstract land o’ delights. most of the screaming and farting ceased. no one was hitting the guy next to him. for the first time, they stopped begging for the snack.

they offered a handful of answers along the lines of, “well, it LOOKED like you really meant it that time.” i told them i’d been faking it.

i said, “one more time”; and just closed my eyes and got quiet. i couldn’t believe it — they instantly got hushed and stared at me, looking for some tell-tale sign of whether or not i was worshipping! this time i didn’t sing. but i did actually focus my attention on god and block the guys out for a bit and find a moment of worship. then i opened my eyes (they were all staring at me like my head might explode at any second, or like candy might start streaming out my nose and ears), and quietly asked, “was i worshipping?” they were stuck. and they knew it. they couldn’t tell, and they said so. it was such a great moment. slowly, i asked, “why couldn’t you tell?”

i could see the understanding dawn across their faces like a slow-rising sun. they couldn’t tell because they couldn’t see what was going on inside me. they couldn’t tell because they didn’t know what i was thinking and feeling.

boom! they got it.

then i dug around in our small-group-tub-o’-junk for a bible, and found a new king james (ick, lousy for middle schoolers) and read from amos about god hating the songs and the musical instruments and the sacrifices, and really wanting justice and mercy. i knew i was pushing it — the chances that they would “get” this were a long shot. but there’s one really bright kid in my group. and as soon as i finished reading, he brilliantly paraphrased the verse for the rest of the group: it’s saying, like, that god doesn’t care if we sing songs or not, or if we ‘say’ prayers, or whatever. it’s saying that what really matters is our hearts; and if we really want to, like, worship god and all, like, we can do that with how we live our lives, and, like, even by how we show god’s love to other people and stuff.

moments like those keep me in middle school ministry.

14 thoughts on “flash of 6th grade understanding”

  1. Marko-
    I’ve recently stumbled upon your blog (I already forget how) and it has been quite the entertaining distraction. I’ll probably have to confess my sin of stealing (time) from my employer now. Dang!!!

    This post really caught my eye because my blue-eyed blonde is one of your 6th grade dudes.

    When I dropped him at school this morning, he asked me what time the pool party starts.

    “Six o’clock, I think.”

    He looked at his watch and said, “So, about 36 more hours to go . . .”

    Obviously, he is really jacked about it and I just want to say that I think you’re a cool thing for our kids, and he is excited to go on Wed. nights because he thinks you rock.

  2. Wow…now that is about the best compliment you can get!

    I just wandered over here from KJ’s SYM/SJH website and have really enjoyed reading through this. Keep up the good work!

  3. wow. wow. thanks, kathy! i’m all warm and gushy inside now! your boy had great insights last night. the cogs in his brain (and hopefully in his heart) were spinning!

  4. marko – that’s a great moment. who knows, if i’d had some guys with a bit more ritalin compliance and a little less of a wwf re-enactment jones i might still be around middle school ministry. on second thought, that’s still best left to will penner!

  5. Wow! I long for that understanding to arrive soon to our youth group but that will most likely happen after the 250+ middle schoolers and high schoolers are split…

    On another note, as a lead worshipper, I almost always have my eyes closed (please don’t hit me ;) ) except of course when the song is directed at the kids. I keep them closed because if I open them, even for a split second, I’ll start focusing on all the kids talking and messing around and forget who I’m singing to/for.

  6. How cool! Too bad the person running our Middle School group only sees youth group as fun/fellowship time. I’d love to teach them this sort of stuff. Maybe he’ll let me start a small group!

  7. Nice illustration Marko. I love when the light goes on, and they understand something about God that they didn’t before. That is wonderful!

  8. Great lesson. Have to admit that when I lead worship I keep my eyes open. Always felt a little self-conscious about that, like I wasn’t as deep as some of the other folks. But with my eyes closed I can’t read the words in the hymnal.

  9. Isn’t that the passage where God says “Your worship services make me want to puke?”…that’s a great one for middle schoolers.

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  11. “…they were all staring at me like my head might explode at any second, or like candy might start streaming out my nose and ears…”

    I instantly got this mental picture of a MarkO Pez dispenser!

    Great post.

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