3 lessons I learned by eating lunch with 5th and 6th graders

When Heather and I decided to start a church in a community where we didn’t know anyone, one thing we knew we wanted our church to be recognized for is adding value to the community.  The summer we moved to Merrillville, I sent an email out to all the principals of each school in the Merrillville School Corporation. One school, in particular, responded. It was Merrillville Intermediate School.  The Principal from Merrillville Intermediate School, Kara Bonin, and I met and started to explore and discuss what it would look like for a brand new church that didn’t even exist at the time to partner with her school.  We discussed what it would look to add value to the staff, students, and teachers.

We started out small yet intentional.  In fact, we are still in those beginning phases.  We started out by bringing snacks for teachers and partnering with the Crossroads Chamber of Commerce to provide gifts for new teachers in the corporation.  We met again after that first school year and started to explore the idea of doing something more intentional.

Kara and her staff identified a handful of 5th and 6th-grade students.  Every Wednesday I drove the five minutes to MIS and had lunch with these students.  The drive might have only been five minutes, but for some reason, it seemed to be worlds apart.   My typical day usually consists of message prep, meeting with adults, casting the vision for what God has given us for RE.THINK and other ‘pastoral duties.’  Each week the distance I felt started to diminish. I walked in thinking I would add value to these students but whoa, I quickly realized how much they would add to my own life.  

Below are the top three ways these students added to my life.  

#1.  The times they are a changin!

I quickly realized that the world and culture these students are growing up in is not the same as the world and culture I did.  

Let’s take video games for example.  Yes, I grew up with video games in my house.  I’m not that old, even though my hair has migrated.  That doesn’t mean I’m that old. There’s no comparison between my Nintendo NES System and an Xbox One X.  The graphics, type of games and the ability to connect with people around the world to play a game together are just a few of the cool differences, and the list could go on and on.

 
The fact that this generation of students has information at their fingertips in their smartphones is also a major difference than when I was growing up.  Think about this, they are walking around with more technology in their phones than was used to propel the first man to the moon and back. Some parents trust these twelve and thirteen-year-olds with that amount of technology unchecked.  A small amount of guidance and parameters go a long way in this area for these students. I had the luxury of not having social media when I grew up. My mistakes are not documented as theirs are. This generation of students has been called the most arrogant generation because of the access to information and at the same time the most insecure generation due to the lack of adult influence in their life.  


#2.  Consistency matters.

Knowing I was going to meet with these students every Wednesday, seemed intimidating at first.  I said “no” to several meetings on Wednesdays from 10 am until 1 pm due to this commitment. In the beginning, I thought I was missing out on ‘good leads’. I also thought that I was missing out because I said “no” to several people in our church that wanted to have lunch on Wednesdays.  After a few months, I quickly realized that holding this commitment forced me to become more efficient in my other responsibilities.

I enjoyed my time with these guys.  They may be crazy at times but think back to your fifth and sixth-grade years.  I can guarantee you did some crazy things. I did, that’s for sure! I walked out of MIS each Wednesday feeling more alive than I did walking in.  

The complexity of most students’ lives these days sobering.  I grew up in an era that divorce and mixed families weren’t the norm.  What was unusual for me growing up, now seems to be the norm. It’s encouraging when you realize the power of a positive, consistent voice in the life of a teenager.  

#3 Every child/ teenager needs six things in their life to mature into their potential.  
Every child needs love, stories, work, fun, tribes and instructional words over the course of their life.  As adults, we need these as well.

Love…helps us understand that we are accepted and known.  
Stories…help us understand that our story is part of a larger story.  
Work… helps us contribute to something using our giftings and abilities.
Fun…who wants to go through life bored and grumpy?  Not me!
Tribes…everyone needs a group of friends they can be their true selves with. Instructional words…we all need guidance along the path of life.                                      See It’s just a Phase by Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy


Each week I realize that these fifth and sixth-grade students need to understand those six crucial elements in life to mature.  It’s difficult for parents, teachers or pastors to provide and communicate these six elements on a consistent basis by themselves.  Together, however, we can teach them over the course of time. I think the future looks amazingly bright if we can get this right.

Wherever you’re reading this, I hope you sense the HOPE that is behind this blog.  I find so much hope in the potential of this emerging generation. They might need guidance, but so did we, right?  I wonder what will happen when community leaders, business leaders and you and I start to add value in the life of students as we realize the times they are a changing, consistency matters and every child/ teenager needs six things in their life to mature into their potential.

 

Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

Hammock

A few years ago this image came across my computer screen.  I thought it was comical at first, but then I started to realize it was pure genius.  It’s pure genius because it is a perfect example of my life growing up in church. I grew up knowing all the right answers about the church, Jesus, and the Bible.  At times, I walked around thinking how great I was because I knew all the right answers.

 

In seventh and eighth grade I participated in a competition called Bible Bowl.  If you’ve never seen a competition, click here to check it out. It’s an academic competition to see who knows the Bible better than the other team.  I truly believe it started with good intentions, but no one, not even my Bible Bowl coaches realized I was only in it for the fame and millions of bonus points it promised.  I wasn’t even a follower of Jesus yet. I honestly had a desire to prove how smart I was and how great of a competitor I could be. My main goal was to crush my competition with my Bible knowledge.  I’m pretty sure that’s why God wrote the Bible in the first place right?

 

The problem was, I had no relationship with Jesus.  I only knew the facts of the Bible. I could push the button pretty fast, recite part of the Bible and come out victorious.  I really believed that knowledge of the Bible was good enough.

 

After a short career on the Bible Bowl circuit and realizing the promise of millions of bonus points was empty, I retired. The problem still was that I had no clue what I was supposed to do with this Bible knowledge.  I had no clue that this knowledge meant little to nothing in everyone else’s mind. It also did not actually make me right with God. I knew where to find the right answers. I knew the process other people should follow to be made right with God.  

 

I still found myself awkwardly standing, like the dog in the picture, in the presence of God.  I volunteered at my church. I attended church all the time. I read my Bible but still had no idea how to act.  I thought I had to perform for God. I thought I had to go through all the ‘right’ motions and have all the ‘right’ answers.  

 

I was 17 years old when I finally had a real come to Jesus conversation.  I found myself on the back porch on a spring night. It was past midnight on a Wednesday.  My student ministry pastor had just given one of the clearest explanations of Jesus and grace.  I remember my emotional response to the message. I can remember the smell of the building and the feeling of the wind as I drove home that night.  As I sat on the back porch alone, I lit my cigar and cracked open the beer bottle I stole from my step dad’s stash. Still not knowing what to do, I asked God that if all of what I had heard was really true, then what’s next?  What should I do? I was still like that dog in the picture above, trying to be comfortable standing in the hammock, instead of resting in the hammock.

 

After asking God what to do, He simply responded: “Rest in my grace”.  One of the parts of the Bible I read through that night was Matthew 11.  One of the verses in Matthew 11 says, “Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart and you will find rest for your souls”.  That night, I finally found the proper way to rest in the presence of Jesus. It wasn’t more knowledge of the Bible or emotionally driven worship songs.  It was simply resting in the presence and grace of Jesus. He bore the punishment for my sins. He endured hardships beyond measure so I could make right with God.  The issue we all need to face is that our personal sin separates us from the God who created us. God so loved the world that He sent his son, Jesus to the world, to save humanity.    

 

My prayer this Easter season is that we will all be able to rest in the grace Jesus offers us. Enjoy the hammock as it was designed to be enjoyed. Don’t just simply fit in it, but rest in the hammock.