This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……
The Story of the Youth Who Wanted to Talk about Ark Poop in Sunday School…A lot…
Ginny Richardson serves as the Pastor for Youth and Children at Vienna Baptist Church in Vienna, Virginia (about 20 miles outside DC). She is a Richmond, Virginia native and a graduate of Christopher Newport University and McAfee School of Theology. Ginny enjoys learning with the students she ministers and seeing them embrace their gifts and passions to serve God and love others. Her hobbies include exploring new places and museums, hanging out with friends and family, watching college sports, and spending time outdoors.
I was starting the second year of my ministry position. I had earned enough trust from my adult leaders to pick a Sunday School curriculum outside of our wheelhouse, and I thought I picked a great one. One that focused on the youth being the ones to decide what we talked about for the lesson, rather than the leader giving a prescribed “bottom line” lesson. I was already so in love with the curriculum choice, and I knew the youth and my leaders would be too once they gave it enough time. This was going to be a great year in Youth Sunday School!
We went through the first two lessons slowly for the youth and my leaders to understand how the process of the curriculum worked as I facilitated the first few lessons myself. I knew Lesson Three, Noah’s Ark, would be when we would get to great conversation and critically thinking about the story together. Youth realizing that it was not totally the kid Sunday School story they heard. I was excited to see youth’s minds blown by this critical look at the story as mine had been.
That Sunday morning, I had a new middle school youth join us for Sunday School. He was not used to being at church. Not a problem, though more of my youth that day were high school youth; it would be fine. I thought he probably wouldn’t talk that much as this was a new thing for him. As I started opening up the discussion time to the group, the new youth quickly asked about what I thought the ark smelled like with all the animal poop.
I thought to myself, “If I address this now, then we can move on in the conversation to more meaningful things, as my high school youth are not impressed. But this is what he wants to talk about, which is the whole point of this curriculum, so I guess we should…briefly.”
So we addressed it. We moved on in the discussion. As we started talking about another aspect of the story, he asked another question about the poop. Then another. And another. We were starting to run out of time.
“Great,” I thought, “the most the youth are going to get out of this discussion is that there was a lot of crap on the ark. So much for this let the youth lead discussion thing. I should have said something to him to make him stop. My high school youth now hate this curriculum choice. Thanks, kid.”
There went my shot at some fabricated “Youth Minister of the Year” award.
A few days later, I received an email from one of the youth’s family members. Part of it said:
“Though he’s not used to it, Jimmy* enjoyed Sunday School. Being from a larger family, he’s not always given the attention he would like, but he felt his voice was heard in the class. It meant a lot more to him than you probably know.”
Let me tell you, I felt pretty small knowing what went on in my head that day in class when the discussion meant so much to him. I still see the now high school youth on occasion in my class, and don’t worry, we’ve moved on from ark poop. I’m glad he feels like youth group is a place he can be heard.
There have been other lessons and events that we have felt have been utter flops, and I imagine there will be many more (as there have been for me). And for most of the flops, we don’t receive kind emails that help change our minds about the whole situation. But remember Jimmy. A reminder to give others or ourselves grace when things seem to have gone wrong. A reminder to laugh at ourselves sometimes. A reminder of why we minister with these wonderful people called youth. Amen.
*Name has been changed to protect the young man’s reputation.