A story about an 8th grade boy

In my last post I talked about sharing stories of hope. So here’s a nice one for you–

In our church we teach Confirmation in 7th grade (which, for my evangelical friends: Confirmation is a “coming of age” process where students affirm the vows made at their baptism by their parents to raise them in faith, and then pledge to own their faith as their own).  One of the crazy things about Confirmation is that people come out of the woods for the process: while a class could average 25 in 6th grade, it can average 45 in 7th grade. It’s kind of insane. And one of the big problems with Confirmation in our church–and others–is that after Confirmation, that number typically goes down dramatically–to 15 students weekly.

Lots of smart minds have put their heads together trying to figure out why there’s such a big drop-off after Confirmation, but no one really has tons of answers. And that’s sad, because I love my church and think it’s exactly what a teenager needs as they go through puberty and get a car and question their entire existence before they go off to college. So, I got creative and tried to figure out: How can we keep kids after Confirmation? But there was another question: What do students need after Confirmation? And since we do Confirmation in 7th grade, we ask: What doe an 8th grader need? 

We identified that an appropriate response to Confirming your faith would be to discover your Spiritual Gifts. This makes perfect sense for the 8th grade year, since ending middle school and entering high school brings about several questions of identity: Who am I? What am I good at? What do I have to offer the world?

Of course, there are no year-long courses on Spiritual Gifts (and especially not for students). And my colleagues thought I’d be crazy to talk about this for an entire year with middle schoolers. Will they care? Are they going to get bored? Shouldn’t we talk about stuff they want to talk about? 

What we realized was: this is kinda perfect. But we also decided to make sure that an 8th grader has a way of practicing their spiritual gifts as they are learning about them. So, I did several steps:

  • We used the Spiritual Gifts assessment and resources by LeaderTreks
  • I split the 15 gifts into 5 categories
  • Each of the 5 categories is a “unit”
  • At the end of the unit, we practice the gift in a hands-on way
  • (yes, I’ll go into this more into detail later. Shoot, I might even market this jank or give it away for free)

This month we did our unit on “Teachers” and focused on the gifts of Teaching, Evangelizing, and Mentoring/Pastoring. For the end of the unit, the 8th graders took over The Modge, our program for 5th & 6th graders. I decided to ask an 8th grade student to teach that day, and then have their peers lead Small Groups.

Who to ask? The class clown, obviously. Last year in 7th grade, Bob (not his name) would purposely troll the class. He was the kid that would shout things out, that would put silly questions in our “Ask Anything” jar, and who would be generally obnoxious. One leader even asked me if he could not be in his small group, because he can overwhelm things in a group setting.

But y’all. I believe in chaos. And when I got Bob’s gifts assessment back at the beginning of the year and saw Leadership, Speaking Out (prophecy), and Pioneering (apostleship). I squealed. I knew it. knew this kid was a leader.

And last month as I was teaching the lesson Evangelism, Bob shouted out “Heather, you want me to teach today?” And I laughed. And then I thought, “No, this boy should be teaching something.”

So I emailed his parents. And got his cell phone number. And talked to his dad. And told my leaders. And everyone thought it was equally crazy and equally possible that this could be the most brilliant thing to happen to our ministry. Maybe this could change things. Maybe this could solve our concerns about retention. Maybe this could just work.

And after meeting with him twice, high-fiving him 57 times, and handing over the stage? It did. It was amazing. At one point I took my eyes off of him to look around the room at all my leaders–who were all in awe with their mouths agape and grinning from ear-to-ear.

And when I asked his peers afterwards what they thought–they were impressed that their friend had the bravery to stand in a room full of almost 80 people.

Here’s another thing I love about this story: Bob’s lesson was on the shepherds at Jesus’s birth. The bottom line for the lesson was that God can use anybody to share his message with others. That shepherds had a lowly job, but they were visited by angels and given the only invitation to the greatest thing that has ever happened to our world–and then given the job to go share with with others.

Catch that? I didn’t even realize it until he was sharing his “underdog story” that we crafted together: God can use anybody to share his message with others. Even an 8th grade boy.

As for answering what to do after Confirmation, I’m not sure I have the magical answer. But what I walked away from Sunday thinking was, “I want to do this again.” I want to empower another student to lead. I want to see another student proclaim God’s promises from the stage. I want to see another group of students support their friend (even if they initially doubted him). I want to see another parent surprised at their kid’s potential. I want to see more Small Group Leaders rewarded for their investments pastoring these kids.

I want to see more. I need to see more. I crave more now. Because kids like Bob will solve all our problems but, more, they will readjust our hope for the church to be more about transforming lives and less about numbers.

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