Tom Shefchunas

Don’t!

by on in Experience.
dont

I really feel for Middle Schoolers. Their lives are totally crazy.

First of all, their brains are in the middle of the second most turbulent time of their lives, rivaled only by the year after birth.

Second, their bodies are changing, too! I don’t need to go into the details here. I think we all know what happens when we go through puberty. But if puberty wasn’t bad enough on its own, every kid goes through these changes differently and at different times… making the gym locker room one of the most agonizing places on the planet. It’s strange for the early developers. It’s strange for the late ones. And it’s strange for those in the middle of the whole thing.

Things are a mess in their social lives, too. The dynamics of their social lives are changing, but, like physical development, they’re changing at different rates for different kids. Throw in a whole new school building, new teachers, and a new scheduling format to the whole thing and you have a recipe for disaster.

And finally (though there is so much more to talk about!) the most difficult thing… their parents change the rules on them. Many parents, sensing all of these changes and realizing their baby is growing up, don’t know how to react. They may go into overdrive or back off completely.

So, yeah. Middle schoolers. I feel for them.

It’s almost like everything in their lives is adding up to one common message.

The message from their parents, their teachers, their coaches, and usually from their church during this time can be summed up into one word…. one idea… one battle cry.

Ready for it? Say it together…

“DON’T!”

In the middle of all of this craziness… the message a middle schooler probably hears most consistently is don’t.

Don’t mess things up.
Don’t act on that feeling.
Don’t eat too much.
Don’t eat too little.
Don’t look at that.
Don’t fart, burp, or breathe too loud.
Don’t be friends with that kid.
Don’t go to that party.
Don’t, don’t, don’t, dont’, dont, don’t… don’t!

I think we owe it to them to give them a break. I think we, as the church, should be the place these kids get to hear a different message.

So here’s what I’m suggesting. Go back through the last 10 messages you preached and ask yourself: was the main point Don’t?

Now think about the next 10 messages you’re planning to teach. Is there a way to focus on a Do! instead?

I think Ronald Reagan had a great approach to this. Here is what he said about his approach to communication and leadership:  “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears: to your confidence rather than your doubts.”

He understood there are two sides to the coin. There’s a don’t side for sure… but there’s another side, too.

Which is more motivating?

“Don’t have unhealthy friends!” or “Be an amazing friend.”
“Don’t be a bully!” or “Be a hero.”
“Don’t have sex!” or “Have sex! But only in the right context according to God’s awesome plan for you.”
“Don’t be a liar!” or “Be a person of truth.”
“Don’t look at porn!” or …. eh… I guess there are some times you simply say, “don’t!”

So… what do you think? What are some other ways to appeal to a kid’s “best hopes” instead of simply saying Don’t?

  • Chad Dillon

    Coach Shef, thank you for these words. I think anytime we can be positive it is better for students. When we say “Do” we give the student control. Now it is there choice. I think this empowers them and gives them more reason to want to do the right thing for Jesus.

  • David

    Great Post!! This generation has a battle cry to be known by what they are for and less of what they are against. How much more passionate would they be if the church became more intentional about helping them cultivate this?

  • Dan Puz

    Right on. We have a term in our MS min that we use a ton. We call it “normal-ization”. At a time when our students feel anything but normal we need to create an environment that tells them what they are going through is normal. We are the one time a week they may never have to cringe at the thought of being themselves- even in all their awkward glory.

    I love what I get to do! 🙂

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