And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach. – Mark 3:13-14 (ESV)
In my years of working with middle school students there is something so powerful about mountainside experiences. Now, I am not talking about literally going to a mountain (which is a cool experience in itself – but difficult to do here in Ohio!) I am talking more about what we see as a rhythm of Jesus walk with the disciples – where they withdraw and take time to focus. Free from the crowds (for brief moments) free from the known or unknown villages, free from distractions. [See Luke 9:10-11, Mark 3:13-21, Mark 14:32-43, John 21:15-19] Moments like these are few and far between for middle schoolers but so critical in their spiritual development.
When middle school students are placed in an environment that cuts out the noise – they will hear God speak.
Sports practice. Homework. Family dinner. Instagram. Xbox. Sibling rivalries. Teenage angst. Bullying. Peer pressure. Drama. These things make up the day to day of an average middle school student. When a student is able to withdraw and cut back the noise God moves in amazing ways. Not that Sunday isn’t important. Not that time spent in the word each day isn’t important. But the moments to withdraw, with caring adults who can process with students free of distraction – allows the voice of God to be heard loudly and clearly in the lives of students. Jesus withdrew so he could prepare his disciples to be sent out. Sports teams hold training camps where they withdraw and focus on preparing for the season. Middle school students need a few moments a year to withdraw so they can be prepared to walk with Jesus in their everyday life.
We should set a precedent that we can give above average amounts of time to spiritual development the same as to sports/academic/talent development
This is a heart issue. I had friends whose parents wanted them to be the best at the sport they could be – so they signed them up for all this extra stuff. None of those friends play those sports anymore. One dealt drugs, didn’t go to college, and threw away all the talent he had. (He would have for sure had a full scholarship) What he needed wasn’t more camps to see how good he was at basketball. Nor more camps to fill his time. He needed mountainside opportunities to wrestle with his faith and align his life with God. Too often our Americanized culture places these extra-faith moments to the side. As parents – you may be set and assume because you have a quiet time that your child will follow suit. But without opportunities to wrestle with the why and how they will at some point fail. Mountainside experiences give that extra boost to wrestle with following Jesus free from distractions, where questions can be asked, God can be heard, and lives are radically changed.
Jesus saw a need to withdraw with his disciples
There is something about time spent with those you care about. You have their undivided attention. As we seek to build concrete disciples whose lives are centered around Jesus – we must partner with parents to provide opportunities individually for students and corporately for families to withdraw from the everyday and spend time focused on Christ. It need not be every month – a few times a year. But specifically for middle schoolers, these moments are key to owning, shaping, and concreting their faith.