This summer I was blessed with the opportunity to travel across the country and teach at four week-long student experiences. Each camp, trip, and retreat was a ton of fun and offered its own unique experiences for me to learn from as I hung out with and taught each group of students and interacted with the leaders and staff. From Houston, to California, to Baltimore, and Wisconsin, I had a blast at each corner of the US of A and God taught me a ton each day. So, I thought I’d share a few learnings I got from my various trips:
1). Teach to students, not anyone else. Each trip I was on, there were times when I was tempted to tweak my content to make sure I impressed the adult leaders or parents in the room, but I forced myself to make sure that my language and illustrations were specifically targeting the middle school and/or high school students in the room. While I might want to establish a positive reputation with my peers, my passion and the reason I was hired was to speak God’s love and truth to students, not anyone else. And the funny thing about it was that the more I focused on speaking directly to students, the more I would have leaders and parents come up to me and thank me for God speaking to them through what I said! And according to Michael Scott, we call that a win-win-win.
2). Sharing weakness can be powerful. As a communicator to students, especially one that travels to new audiences each time, it can be extremely tempting to put a lot of effort into maintaining a certain persona with the students I teach and interact with. But what I found is that the vast majority of the times, students will talk to me and open up to me about a moment in one of my teachings where I shared something about myself that was less-than perfect. When I gave examples from my own life of how I screwed up, students responded by feeling free to admit weakness in themselves, while also being open to the truth I shared immediately after of what I learned through my mistake(s). Obviously, there’s a line of appropriate sharing (depending on the setting and audience) but always trying to look perfect is far from the most powerful way that God can use our words to speak into students’ lives. Unless, of course, you are perfect…in which case, can you give me golf lessons?
3). A Conversation Has Much More of an Impact Than a Teaching. As a teacher, it would be real easy to simply show up, talk, walk off stage, and head back to my room to watch That 70’s Show on Netflix or play Candy Crush ’til my fingers bled (happened to a friend of mine). But each time I talk at a student event, I make sure to intentionally carve out time during the day, night, as well as before and after teaching to step out of my comfort zone (has#brown: introvert) and engage with students. And every single time I do this, I’m so glad I did. The times I spent talking to students about everything from girls to guys to tattoos to celebrity doppelganger, to God and faith and pain and hope and everything in between is by far, the most rewarding part of working with students. I could deliver a killer teaching and hope students remember 10% of what I said, or have a personal conversation for 10 minutes and know that they will remember it for a long time. The pulpit (or music stand) is important, but I’ve learned to never underestimate what God does through conversation and a personal relationship with the students that we serve. Plus a bonus is I learn about all the strategies for the video game I’m playing (Dishonored).
4). Students Want to Go Deep. Part of my ministry philosophy for students is that we should never dumb or water down the truth from Scripture. According to 1 Timothy 4:12, an eleven-year-old is just as capable as taking their faith seriously as I am. So, when it comes to the way I teach about the Bible, the way I talk about God’s love, and the way I challenge students, I never shy away from going deep and getting real with them. Each time I fear that I might end up pushing them further away or possibly even offending them, but the response I see from students is remarkable. Everybody from 6th grade boys to 12th grade girls (about a 30 year maturity gap, FYI) come up to me and tell me how God encouraged them and how they’re so excited to start a new journey in seeking after God and living their lives for him. I’m not opposed to having a stupid amount of fun (IE: a cricket-spitting for distance competition…true story), but when it comes to a student’s faith, they’re hungry and ready for depth.