What I am having trouble with right now is how do you neglect the 99 while you go and look for the 1. What about the 99 who also need to be fed and protected and watched?
I know that Jesus teaches that it is important to leave the 99 and go looking for the 1 lost sheep. I get that we need to remember not to just minister to our own flock, but we must break free and go and searching for those who are on the outside, those who are not like us,
Do I just cater everything in our lesson to these disruptive students or do I expect them to toe the line or leave? I am sure that the balance is somewhere in the middle, but right now I am having a hard time finding it.
So right now in our ministry there are some kids who are coming that are being super disruptive. With how little the pay attention you would question why they are even there, except that I can tell that they are desperate for positive adult interaction and they really need a place to belong, even though they show this by acting out and making the lessons unbearable for everyone.
So what I am trying to figure out is where is the line between reaching these kids who are desperate for the gospel and love, but who make it impossible for everyone else in the room to learn and those people who are there to learn and worship?
It is always amazing to look at a canyon or a river bed and see how water running over time can even shape stone. A steady persistent drip of water can do more to reshape rock than a fast short torrent.
I am trying to remember this truth also applies to youth ministry.
Lately I have been working with a group of middle school students in an after school program. I am trying to use board games as a way to open up conversations with them and it is working, well sort of. What I think is working more than the games is the fact that I am there week after week. As I have been just simply hanging out with them I have been able to be there in the middle of all of the crazy stuff in their life. It has been a great reminder of how important it is just to be present with students.
As a youth pastor I have a tendency to get wrapped up in the lessons and the activities and all of the stuff that goes into just keeping thing going from week to week. What doing this group has reminded me that youth (especially the younger ones) are looking for adults to give be present in their lives. They need caring adults who are willing to listen and willing to speak truth to them. As youth pastors that is what we called to do as much as anything else. We are called to be present in the lives of students.
It doesn’t always produce immediate results, but it is a slow steady progress that can soften even the hardest heart of stone.
If you have never watched A League of the Own you need to get off the Internet and go watch it now. If you have then you will remember when the coach (played by Tom Hanks) yells at one of his players and the player immediately starts to cry. Hanks is flummoxed by what he sees and appeals to the umpire with the no famous line, “there’s no crying in baseball!”
I have to admit that I sort of assumed that there was no crying in middle school, at least not when I went there. In my memory crying was a very bad thing and would get you branded a crybaby or worse. I am pretty sure I needed to cry a bunch in middle school and I can actually remember crying in the bathroom and on the playground at least once each, but it wasn’t a common occurrence.
I bring this up because I am part of a board game club at the local middle school these days and I promise at least 2 kids cry every week. Normally it is because someone called them a name or was mean to them in some way. When this happens I find myself of two minds. The first thing I want to do is tell the person who was mean that that sort of behavior is unacceptable, but the second thing I want to do is try to help the crying kid work through whatever it is that is making them so susceptible to the words of others. I try to be understanding and listen, but the 80s kid in me wants to say, “suck it up, buttercup!”
Instead I try to have a conversation (in a group of 16 kids who are all just one bit of unstructured time away from a mutiny) about examining your feelings and trying to discover why those words hurt. I also try to get kids to stop and realize just how damaging their words are. It has created some pretty cool places for conversation and I am glad that God has me there to be a voice in their life, but honestly I know that sometimes I look at them like Hanks looking at his crying player while I think, “how can there be this much crying in middle school?”
Lately I have been spending time with lots of new youth. Most of them have been middle school and most of them have been relatively unchurched. I discovered that if I am not careful I will focus more on trying to keep them in line than I do on sharing Jesus with them. This is something I am trying to change.
Here is what the situation looks like right now. We have had an uptick in bus kids coming to our church so I have about 4 or 5 people each week who are just not used to church and the culture that we have at church. I have also started working with the after school program at the local middle school and have been struggling trying to find the right balance of games and people. I have found over the past few weeks that it is much easier for me to get stressed about wrangling kids than it is to be excited to tell new people about Jesus. I have found myself praying for them to be good and not hit each other and not yell at each other, but forgetting to pray that they get to see Jesus in a real way. I have found myself falling into a pattern of behavior modification rather than trying to help them find God.
But lately, I have been trying hard to see them not as kids who don’t know how to act, but rather people in need of the love of Jesus. Seriously that simple change in perspective makes a huge difference in 1) how I feel about going to these events each time and 2) how I treat people. When I see these students as people who need Jesus I suddenly like them more. I see their actions not a disrespect and trouble, but rather symptoms of what is happening in their heart.
You know what else has happened? When my attitude toward them changed their attitudes changed as well. Those who were combative because people who will listen and will seek me out. They aren’t perfect. It hasn’t fixed everything, but seeing people as children of God has made a big difference.
This is stuff I of course knew and stuff I had taught. It was just something I forgot and it has been cool to see God bring this back to me lately.
I live in a very unique place when it comes to political stuff. I think the title sums it up best. As a first born child following the rules matters to me. As someone who has hosted international students in my home and who has seen first hand what happens when you mess up on a visa issues it bugs me to think about people coming into our country illegally. I don’t know if a wall is the best option, but illegal immigration irritates me because it isn’t fair. Sure it is a good life for the people here illegally, but for all of the people who are trying to do thing the right way it is just wrong. It is like skipping a line at Walmart, but instead of getting to check out faster you are getting a better life.
So I am pro-law, but I am also fiercely pro life, all life. Because I am pro life I believe in the rights of all people and believe that all people should be protected. This all people includes refugees, people who have been driven out of their homes because of war and other things. I think we as a country need to be welcoming to more, not fewer refugees. I believe that we as a country have been blessed to be a blessing and the moment we stop being a blessing we will stop being blessed. I also can’t figure out when the Christians became the scared ones. When did we stop being people who would help others at all costs and instead become a people who want to hide in our own safe bubbles.
And speaking of safety, that safety is just an illusion. We are not safer because we don’t allow refugees. There are still hundreds of ways to get into the counrty to hurt us if you want. On top of that, a hard stand that says, “we don’t want you” makes people madder at America.
What bugs me the most in all of this discussion, however, is that the Christians in my world seem to be so bitter about people who aren’t like them. They have dug in their heels and refuse to even listen to another viewpoint. It seems like issues have become things to argue about and we have forgotten that all of the issues are about people. That you aren’t just arguing to keep out refugees, but you are arguing to doom a family to war and misery. Now, you might argue that those people are so dangerous that they hurt our way of life, and “we have to protect ours first” and we can have discussions on that (starting with Jesus who said, “let’s put others first”) but when we have those conversations we need to remember that we are talking about people, not issues.
I wonder what would happen if every Christian treated their Facebook feed like it was a mission field instead of an echo chamber. What would happen if Christians decided they wanted to share the love of Christ with people who didn’t believe like them.