One of the most difficult parts of creating disciples, specifically of middle school students, is that it requires a lot of waiting. And a lot of patience. Because middle school students are so finicky as they move from 11 year old concrete thinkers to 14+ year old abstract thinkers, discipleship looks a lot different than high school ministry and beyond. However – because they are in this changing world we can’t just lump them in with children’s ministry. Middle schoolers are capable of adults – I just spent a week with mainly 11 year old incoming sixth graders who were given the most difficult task at the Akron-Canton Food Bank, beyond the high school volunteers also serving. And while they exceeded expectations – they also are still in this young phase (dealing with a lost key and a student who dumped water on their sleeping roommate last week)
As we set up our middle school environments to create concrete disciples, we must be prepared to wait. And we must be patient. We must be patient when our students pull a move which is reminiscent of children’s ministry. And we must not expect every good move they make to be the precedent for the future. Below are a few steps we have taken to move towards creating environments where Concrete Disciples can thrive.
#1 Evaluate what you do
While this isn’t new – it is very important. I inherited a ministry which had a lot of things in place that at one time worked, but they had lost their purpose and become just one more thing. I also created things 4+ years ago which I have to kill because they have know lost their purpose. Does your environment still achieve what you set it out to?
I used to live in fear of letting go of the past – but the reality is if we cannot move forward in fear of someone being upset we aren’t seeking to follow Jesus. This is tough – I recently talked to a friend who is having difficulty moving forward because of loud voices in their church against change. However, if we had never moved ahead in spite of voices telling us we would fail or it isn’t good – I would have been stuck in a rut and going nowhere. When we first started 5Q everyone said it would fail. It went from 40 to 80 to 100+ without any promotion on our end beyond a few Instagram posts.
#2 Evaluate your team
I struggled for years with recruiting volunteers. I still do. I struggled with just letting anyone who was able be a part of the team. But the reality was I need leaders who are invested beyond one single environment to create disciples. Discipleship doesn’t happen on a Sunday morning. Discipleship doesn’t happen on a Wednesday night. Discipleship happens over minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. I still have roles for team members who can’t or whose mindset is not in a place to disciple middle schoolers – but I won’t let them be at the forefront of leading students if they don’t understand the vision. Even if it means we have less students being discipled. I want to create middle school students who love Jesus all the time – not who know a lot about him and attend weekly services.
#3 Be prepare to wait
Sometimes, no, most times you wait before you see results. Often you have no idea what God is doing until years down the road. But be prepared to wait – and know that it is okay. Constantly ask yourself “is this working? Is this still something God is leading us to do?” But creating concrete disciples takes time. Creating healthy environments takes time.
Three years ago we launched our “Fifth Quarter” (5Q) in spite of fears of failing. The first year, a family who had been hurt by the (C)hurh (church as whole – not specifically ours) reconnected and began showing up. I grew close – began building a relationship with this family. The next year, I challenged our students to bring friends. (5Q is our environment for middle schoolers to tangibly live on mission with one another – to set a concrete foundation of what it means) and this student brought a lot of guys from his football team. Through this – I met one of these families. At first, they were weird about me. Who is this Brummy? Over time, I knew their family. This led into a deeper relationship, including them coming on a retreat and reaching out during a moment of crisis.
I had no idea years ago this would be the result – yet God was orchestrating this whole story. This student who was connected years back is know making steps as a concrete disciple, investing in 3 friends lives, striving to follow Jesus. This took a few years to happen.
We constantly feel pressure from our senior pastors, from our elders, from parents to see something happen now. God isn’t in the habit of doing something now or doing something later – God works as He wills. Sometimes it is now. Sometimes it is later. But what I have learned – I get to play the waiting game. Waiting and praying for God to move now. Waiting and praying for God to move later. Trusting that He is greater – that He guides and directs us. And I am excited as middle school students succeed at following Jesus. And I am excited that when they fail – I get to partner with parents and step into their life to remind them of God’s relentless grace and love.