This past week I have reached the end of three years with a great class of students and the beginning of a new chapter with incoming students. Reflecting back on this week, the breakthrough we had at camp, and what I have learned about middle school discipleship, it really is summed up simply in this: Jesus, consistency, and fun.
I remember the first time I met a few of my (now) eighth grade dudes – they liked to eat all the food in my apartment, play video games, and only talk about what they had to answer during our Jesus time. Not a lot of that changed over the years. They didn’t stop eating. They didn’t stop playing video games. And they never really started talking a ton. Not until their last night at summer camp, three years into a long journey. There were lots of late night taco bell runs, video game marathons, time spent in God’s word wondering whether there was breakthrough. There were a lot of moments I was frustrated, or could have just assumed “Hey, they know what to say so everything is probably good in their lives.” But I realized that through all these years God had been working.
Whether I knew it or not – those late night taco bell runs had Jesus at the center. Those times playing video games formed a relationship we otherwise wouldn’t have built. And they kept hearing about Jesus – even though it took three years for them to respond. The reality was – the student needed those three years to trust. Because it is really difficult for a middle schooler to trust in today’s world. They feel constant expectations from adults about who they must be, what they must do or not do – and it took three years for these students to come to grips that their leader wasn’t about anything but Jesus – His grace and his love. They needed three years of consistency, three years of fun, and three years of Jesus – for them to open up to following Him.
Most of them said a prayer when they were little. But few of them had actually followed Jesus. They wanted to be known but could never do enough to be known. They wanted to matter but couldn’t do enough to matter. They were lonely and turning to smoking, pornography, and drinking to deal with their loneliness. And then, finally, they met Jesus. And after three years of taco bell runs, three years of video games, and three years of not giving up because it seems like God isn’t doing anything or I am not doing anything right – God moved in amazing ways. It pays to be in it for the long haul – in fact, it sort of seems like we should be in it for the long haul. Trusting God to move, having fun, loving students as Jesus loves us, and being consistent despite any storms or opposition.