re-orienting to the desires of teens

my middle school guys small group has been…uh…challenging this year. i think i could summarize it best with:

i really like each of the guys individually; but i don’t like them much collectively.

i come to consider it a ‘good night’ when we have a 5 – 10 minute bit of focus and honesty (out of our 60 – 80 minutes together). and we’ve been having a ‘good night’ about once every 6 or 8 weeks.

after a particularly bad night a few weeks ago, i was understandably discouraged. i got thinking a bit about what we’re trying to accomplish, and it dawned on me that we’ve been forcing our agenda (i have a co-leader) on the guys, hoping they’ll buy into it, rather than discovering and responding to their desires.

i called my co-leader and said something like:

we only have about 5 weeks left with these guys before they leave us for the high school ministry. i don’t want them to look back at our two years together and think, “that was ok; but marko and tyler seemed frustrated most of the time.” i want them, at the very least, to think, “my small group leaders loved me, and our group was a place i looked forward to being every week. it was like family.” if we had another full year together, maybe we could rethink this in some other way; but at this point, i think we’d be wise to consider what it is that they guys want out of this group — why do they come? — and meet them at their point of desire, rather than forcing our own spiritual/educational agenda on them.

after some back-and-forth, we decided to have a birthday party that week (for all of them — it wasn’t anyone’s birthday, really), and play some games, and make sure we left a good amount of time to pray for each other (one of the only spiritual practices they’ve taken to).

as i write this, we have 3 weeks left. we bought them each a copy of The Way Bible (a great bible for high schoolers and young adults), which we’ll give them on one of our last nights. and i plan on continuing this re-orienting for our limited remaining time.

(by the way, it’s clear to me that my thinking on this was totally informed by Morgan Schmidt’s excellent book, Woo.)


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