Being real with preteens is important.
This summer I spoke at a few summer camps. The times that I shared personal life stories seemed to grab their attention the most. They were invited to walk alongside of me in my journey with God.
I talked about when Hurricane Katrina hit my home town of New Orleans. At the time we were living there and Jena, my wife, was over nine months pregnant with our third child. We evacuated with less than 24 hours notice. Packing up everything we could fit in our Toyota Sienna, my wife and two kids (three & one years old at the time) headed for Houston Texas. We had only an ounce of hope that the “storm of the century” wouldn’t live up to the media hype. We were wrong. As you know, the Katrina hit New Orleans hard. Long story short, our house had minimal damage. However, our city was in shambles. It took years of rebuilding to recover. I shared with campers what God taught me through the storm. I shared how God walks with all of us through life’s storms. How He is a place of refuge and strength. I talked about why bad things happen to good people. How we live in a messed up and imperfect world, but get to experience some of God’s goodness now through a relationship with Jesus.
Now, you might not have a story like that. No real-life hurricanes have come your way lately. You have times when God’s goodness shined in your life. You struggled with bullies at school when you were a preteen. You had difficulty dealing with authority when you were young. You have prayers that were answered. You have experiences to share, so why not share them?
When you share personal stories, you are being real and authentic. Being real gives preteens a reference point for following Jesus. You help them unpack what it means to be a Christian in every day life. Preteens need something more than Bible stories. They need real life people who model Christianity.
When being real with preteens, consider these key points:
1. Share your mistakes and failures.
Preteens need to see you’re human – messed up and imperfect. The tension is broken when they realize Christianity is for messed up people. There is hope everyone. Despite the fact you’re messed up, you still follow Jesus. You go to Him with your flaws and allow Him to shape mold you. Just telling preteens this is too abstract. But as you share your failures and how you’ve brought them to God, they get it. They need to see you without the Christian “mask” on.
2. Share your successes.
Preteens also want to hear your victories. They get excited when you lead a friend to Jesus, because that gives them hope for their friends. They want to hear how you overcame the bully with love, because that means it’s possible with the bully at their school. Inspire and motivate preteens to put their faith into action with your success stories.
3. Use common sense.
Use personal stories that relate to 4th, 5th or 6th graders. Avoid talking about fear of not paying the bills or marriage problems you’re experiencing. They won’t get it. Get on their level. Talk about issues their facing now and how God fits into their lives today.