Guest Post by Mark Friestad
How many times have we seen this in preteen ministry? The large group teacher begins by saying, “How are you guys doing this morning?” And the preteens answer, usually half-heartedly, “Good…” And the teacher says, “Oh, come on – you can do better than that! HOW ARE YOU GUYS DOING THIS MORNING??” And the preteens muster an energetic, “GOOD!!!” Only there’s usually at least one who takes it too far – farther than the teacher would like. They either scream too loudly, or they take the invitation as license to now be disruptive. Others follow their lead. And soon, the same teacher who was inviting loud participation is resorting to “Shhhh”-shing.
Now, is this necessary? It isn’t. I’ve often wanted to ask people who do this, “What did you want, exactly? Because you asked preteens to be loud, and then when they were, you squelched it.” So what gives? It turns out that exchanges like this have more to do with the teacher’s own nervousness than the preteens’ over- or under-participation. In other words, it’s the teacher who’s being inappropriate, not the students.
In one sense, it’s understandable why it happens. It’s nerve-wracking to stand in front of a group of silent people. It really is. You want some signal that they’re with you, that they’re tracking and receptive and understanding what you’re saying. But think about it: how is an audience supposed to reflect any of that until you’ve actually said something? So my advice for handling that start-of-lesson tension, when students are looking quietly and expectantly at you, giving you absolutely no affirmation (yet) is this: get over it. Expect it. Seize that moment to set the direction and go. I find it helps divert attention off me (and dispel some of the nervousness) if I have either an object in my hand for them to look at or a picture or graphic on screen. But, at some point, you have to open your mouth and begin to speak.
I once read that in order to lead a successful small group Bible study, you have to be a bit arrogant. What the writer meant by that was that any teacher has to have the audacity to believe that they have something to teach that will be beneficial to others in the group. In other words, a teacher can’t be tentative or apologetic in their approach. Do you believe that as you prepare to teach? Are you so burdened by the message of the material, so convinced that it would be a crime to keep this stuff to yourself, that you’ll do whatever it takes to communicate well – including getting past your own nervousness?
It’s one thing to be nervous because you’re legitimately unprepared, or you’re not really clear on what it is you’re trying to say, or you doubt the importance of what you’re teaching. In those cases, you probably should be nervous. But if you’re prepared, then have no fear. Preteens deserve our best, and that entails harnessing their participation in service of the learning effort – not just as a way of making us feel comfortable up front.
Mark Friestad is the preteen pastor at North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, CA. He’s got the coolest job in the world because he gets to lead a preteen ministry, Surge, full-time. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.