We need to be TRAIL GUIDES, who can carefully guide students through adolescence and closer to God.
Leaders as Trail Guides
It would be a bad idea to go hiking through the woods alone without any idea where you are going. Chances are you’ll get lost or even injured. Hiking with a map or GPS may increase your chances of not getting lost, but you still may stumble across a few pitfalls along the way. But if you were to go with a trail guide, someone who knew the way and had been there before, you’d not only be assured a safer trip, but a more enjoyable experience.
In a lot of ways, the path students are on is like hiking through the woods… in the dark… without a flashlight… or a map… and they’re surrounded by bears… man-eating bears… who are hungry… so very hungry. Some students attempt to navigate this journey by stumbling around in the dark. Others will turn to their peers for help and support, but two lost people wandering around are still lost. According to Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster in their book The Godbearing Life, “what they all need (though few would name it as such) are spiritual guides, caring individuals who have been there or who are at least a little further down the road and able to point the way.”
Being a trail guide for students means helping them along on their journey. As a trail guide, you can caution them about certain dangers, help them avoid potential pitfalls, point out exciting new trails or old trails that have been forgotten, advise them on which way to go, and when they wander off, we help them back on the right path. It’d be easy if we could simply knock them over the head and drag them along the right path, but that’s not our role. As guides, we point to God, but it’s their choice whether to follow or not.
There’s a story told about a man who falls into a deep hole. Another man comes walking by and hears the cries for help. In response, this Good Samaritan jumps down in the hole with the trapped man. In frustration, the trapped man asks, “Why did you do that? Now we’re both trapped.” The other responds, “Yes, but I’ve been here before and I know the way out.” As trail guides for students, we need to think back to what it was like for us to try to navigate through this confusing time and use that knowledge to help them along on their own journey. God himself jumped in hole with us when He sent His son Jesus to walk with us and experience firsthand what we experience, including adolescence. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
We need to be ADVOCATES, who are willing to come alongside students, believing in who they are and who they’ll become.
Leaders as Advocates
Being an advocate for students means believing in students. While everyone else is content to see them as obnoxious, hormonal teenagers wrapped up in their own worlds, we see more. We see young men and women who were wonderfully and fearfully crafted in the image of their Creator. We see not only who they are, but who they will become once they are able to tap into the immense reservoir of God-given potential waiting to be unleashed just below the surface.
Being an advocate means seeing teenagers as Jesus sees them. When others saw Matthew as a tax collector, thief, and traitor, Jesus saw a disciple and one of the authors of his story. When others saw the Samaritan woman as a promiscuous outcast, Jesus saw one of the first evangelists who brought an entire village to him. When Jesus saw Peter, he didn’t see a man who would be catching fish and mending nets for the rest of his life. Jesus saw a man who could go where he went and do what he could. He saw a man who would walk on water. He saw a man who would carry on after he was gone. He saw a rock. Even after Peter’s betrayal, Jesus pulls him aside and encourages Peter to “feed my sheep.”
Being an advocate means believing in students when they don’t even believe in themselves. In the book The Godbearing Life, Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster write “of particular importance to adolescents is friendship with an adult who sees in them potential they do not necessarily see in themselves. Studies consistently indicate that a relationship with such an ‘adult guarantor’ during adolescence outweighs all other forms of youth ministry in terms of positive influence on youth development.”
We need to be STORYTELLERS, who can share stories about who God is and what he’s done, while helping students connect God’s story with their own.
Leaders as Storytellers
According to Hollywood Screenwriter, Robert McKee, “Story is not only our most prolific art form, but it rivals all activities—work, play, eating, exercise—for most our waking hours. We tell and take in stories as much as we sleep—even then we dream.” Story is how we make sense of our world and what’s going on around us. We relate to scenes from movies, television shows, and books because we can see ourselves in those stories. They become our stories.
When we read the stories in Scripture, we can see ourselves in those stories. The Nation of Israel’s rebellion against God becomes our story of rebellion. When we read about Jesus’ trials in the desert, we find encouragement for when we find ourselves in the desert place. Peter’s denial becomes our denial and in his restoration on the shore, we find hope for our own restoration. Jesus would use story frequently when speaking to people. Through stories about fishing nets, mustard seeds, and lost sons, we catch glimpses of God’s Kingdom and His love for us.
In Middle School Ministry, we need to become storytellers. We need to spend time in God’s story revealed in Scripture so that we can then share those stories with students. When we tell God’s story, we need to use not only our words, but our actions as well. We can’t tell them the story of the Good Samaritan, unless we are becoming the Good Samaritan. Instead of just telling Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and Goats, we can live like sheep. When we tell these stories, we can help students discover the connections between God’s story and their own.
We also need to know our own stories. Stories about how we’ve stumbled or wandered away from God. Stories about how we’ve drawn closer to our Creator. Stories about what we were like as middle school students. Stories of the people and circumstances that have changed our lives forever. We need to know these stories and tell them… tell them often.
We also need to raise up another generation of storytellers. Young men and women who will take God’s story into their schools and relationships. We need to help draw out the stories that are being told in their lives and equip them to share their story with those around them.
If you are interested in being a Leader in Middle School Ministry, email Matt Acton, Director of Middle School Ministry