Now about eight days after these sayings, he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.
– Luke 9:28
If we examine closer Jesus’ followers, we see that he calls out specifically three of them to experience a part of him beyond what either the crowds or the twelve experienced. He seems to call on them more often, and the Gospel of John in chapter 13 even references “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” You probably have a student like this among your 12. Being honest – I know I did. And its tough, because sometimes the other students notice. Its not necessarily that you try to pick favorites – maybe you just naturally hit it off with those students, you are able to relate more to their life, or they just seem more open to living life with you.
Something happens as you focus in on your three – you begin to know them inside and out and you share in experiences beyond what the twelve or the crowds experience. Peter, James, and John experienced something deeper than the others – such as the raising of Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5.
When you invest in three students specifically, you begin to know them inside and out. While a lot in middle school is inviting them to have fun together – you begin to know them beyond this. Out of my twelve, there were three that I could say “I know you!” I could pick up on how things were at home based on their interactions with others, I could tell you what food they would pick at any given restaurant, I could tell you whether the answer they gave you in a church setting was from the heart or from the head. But it took me over a year of investing in them beyond a Sunday and Wednesday and the occasional big event. So how do you invest in the three?
Heres the deal – there have been a lot of students I want to invest in. But the reality is – if its not feasible, don’t exert the energy. Bad as this sounds – some of my guys/parents just aren’t open to being disciple beyond the occasional “I show up to church on Sunday and maybe I’ll consider going on a retreat.” Someone who doesn’t want to be there isn’t going to get far – and you’ll exhaust yourself. A few years back I exhausted a lot of energy on students I really wanted to invest in but didn’t get that it is a two way street. Peter, James and John responded positively to the call of follow me. If you have to drag them, they aren’t followers. Obviously – tend to your flock. But choose wisely the students to call your “three” – pray. Pray. Pray.
Pick them up after school.
One of the best ways I got to know my three was by picking them up after school. You hear about their day, about their weekend, see who they walk from the school with, and you get to see them outside church or home world. Jesus spent a lot of time with his twelve – like they ate together, traveled together, slept in the same places together. And he spent even more time with his three – they have shared experiences beyond what the crowds or twelve had. Some of the best conversations won’t happen in a small group or retreat – but in a car ride after school, in a Starbucks parking lot, or chasing ducks at a local park.
Pray for them.
This is something I tend to fail at – often. But prayer is so important. Jesus was always praying for his disciples. And we need to pray for ours. If you really want to see life change this is the key. Yes – shared experience is important with middle school students, but ultimately it is in God’s hands. And the best way to invest in your three is through lifting them up to God.
I am excited as this new year begins – my twelve is changing as the last are moving up into high school this year. I have spent a lot of time evaluating the past few years and processing as I prepare to invest in this new group. Jesus modeled for us discipleship – lets follow Him together as we seek to create concrete disciples. Middle school is definitely a challenge, and there will be a lot of knuckleheaded moments (just like with the first disciples) but it is so worth it! We are blessed to be on mission with Jesus making disciples of middle school students and changing the world for the sake of the Gospel!