When youth groups end on Sunday night my brain is buzzing with critique of what we did and, sometimes, awe at things that happened. It often takes me a few hours to go to bed. So this Sunday night, I’m composing my first “Monday Morning Quarterback” to share with y’all my sense of what went down with our Sunday youth groups and to hear some of your thoughts about it.
For our second week of youth group, there were five 7th or 8th grade students present. That’s five out of nine junior high students on the whole church roster. Three of these students are 7th graders, meaning they’re new to our youth programs. I’m pleased those students have decided the youth programs are worth a shot, but I’m more interested in making it an experience they wish to repeat over the course of the year.
One thing that may help in that pursuit is the Indonesian church that has been meeting in our building on Sunday afternoons since we started youth group. That church is enjoying its fellowship time right next to the youth room at precisely the same time that our students are arriving, and those folks have showered our students with hospitality by urging them to share in the food that has been prepared for their fellowship. So the new church meeting in our building is sharing table fellowship with our students who have grown up in these rooms and corridors; it seems to be a very cool Kingdom of God type thing that is happening.
As for the rest of the time, I continue to structure youth gatherings (and most everything else I have responsibility for) around Moving Beyond Icebreakers: a name exercise, a warmup question, a springboard activity, the work, and a summation. For youth groups, the springboard activity is typically a game, and tonight I caved to the popular demand for Grog (see No. 4 on this list). After the extended meal, the game took us almost to the end of our youth group time, so the work (a quick study of Jesus’ saying about taking up one’s cross) got badly truncated.
Two things I noticed. The warmup question was simply a high point/low point review of the previous week, and the things that count as high points are vastly different for different students. Two boys talked about things they accomplished in the previous week, while another talked about a gift he received, another about a sleepover with a friend, and the fifth about a Friday afternoon spend wrapped in a Snuggie atop a body pillow playing video games.
Also, phrases like “take up your cross” and “deny yourself” have no meaning to a junior high student, and it’s very, very difficult to explain them. Students thought “deny yourself” meant to do things you know you shouldn’t do. This seems to me to be a demonstration of formal operational thinking struggling to emerge.
Part of the difficulty is my own desire to protect students from a normative description of Christian faith as suffering, so expositions of “take up your cross” like the video below don’t fit the bill. Also, that’s not the norm set by the congregation they live in; the saints of our church are not martyrs. We may need a nudge in that direction, but the point is that our students don’t experience a community of Christians who equate a phrase like “take up your cross” with burden-bearing.
In the end, I suggested that “deny yourself” means going without something so that someone else could benefit. I’m only now realizing the missed opportunity to point to the Indonesian church’s treatment of us as a concrete example of, among other things, self-denial.
Kids started leaving, so I said we’d get into this further next week.
Any suggestions as to how to do that?