i’m a youth ministry volunteer. middle school ministry, specifically. and for the last 18 years in a row, i’ve been volunteering with riptide, the middle school ministry at my church. for the last 11 of those, my role has been fairly boundaried by the otherwise-freneticism of my life and travel schedule. so while i teach on sunday morning once in a blue moon, and help with some volunteer leader development stuff, my regular involvement is co-leading a small group.
i’ve had my current group of guys for two years (while we’ve been a 3-year middle school ministry in the past, we’re currently a 2-year junior high ministry, since our church has a thriving and developmentally appropriate 5th & 6th grade preteen ministry).
and, honestly, this group has been the toughest one i’ve lead. this challenge is likely a large portion due to me. i’ve been lazy in my approach. and while i’m prepared for my group each week (that i’m there), i haven’t been great at the other stuff, like connecting with the guys outside of our scheduled time.
a week ago, our group time was massively frustrating. my co-leader and i just couldn’t get the guys to focus for more than a minute. afterward, i decided to have a brief parking lot conversation with 3 of the guys. one had checked out halfway through, and i wanted to verify that he was ok (he was just tired). two others, though, have such a big impact on the group with their choices, and i wanted to challenge them. i thought i was going to give a short, strong word of ‘i believe in you, and i want you to see how you shape our group time.’ easy-peasy, lemon squeezy, and move on.
the last of those short conversations, though, caught me off guard.
it went down like this:
me: dude, you have so much power in our group. you are a natural leader, and the other guys follow your lead. you have more power to impact the vibe of our time together than i have. i’d really love to see you choose to exercise that power in a positive way.
8th grade guy: teach me!
me: uh, what?
8th grade guy: teach me about leadership! that would be so cool!
honestly, he freaking called my bluff. i wasn’t expecting an invitation to step it up with a guy who’s moving on to the high school ministry in about six weeks. but that’s not an open door (heck: it was much bigger than an open door!) that a youth worker can say no to.
so: i ordered a couple copies of 99 Thoughts for Student Leaders, and we had our first meeting the other night.