Have you heard about Radical Parents? They’re doing some really cool things to help resource parents and youth workers. And a couple of weeks ago, I got to be a part of their podcast!
Back in April at The Orange Conference, I got the chance to sit down with Joel and Geoffrey from Radical Parents for a little interview. They had some questions about middle school ministry, small groups, the power of fun, and our book Creating a Lead Small Culture. Aaaaaand… that interview finally went live on a recent episode of their podcast!
And, in case you don’t have time to give the whole thing a listen right now, I made a little transcript of the interview for you.
RADICAL PARENTS: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO INTO YOUTH MINISTRY?
ELLE: I’ve always loved working with teenagers. When I was a teenager, I was doing whatever I could to lead my peers. I wanted to make a difference. When I was old enough, in high school, to start leading with the middle group, I started doing that. And I think it showed me, from the very beginning, that middle school is a super crucial age. [Middle school is] the time when kids are first beginning to experience their faith in a new way. They’re learning to make it their own, to ask really hard questions, and maybe beginning to doubt. I realized there was a really important juncture there, and if I could help kids navigate their faith during that really important juncture in their lives, then I wanted to do that.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON ISSUES MIDDLE SCHOOLERS ARE DEALING WITH?
That is probably going to depend on your context, culture, and demographic of kids. But I think universally, there’s this question of Who am I? and Do I matter? So for us, we try to create this culture for middle schoolers where they know they’re loved and accepted above all else, because if they feel safe in our church then we feel like they’re going to be more open to having hard conversations and to expressing their doubts. Because they have doubts – even if they don’t acknowledge them. And if they feel safe with us, then they’re more likely to process those doubts with us, rather than with someone outside the church or outside of Christianity.
SO, YOU WROTE CREATING A LEAD SMALL CULTURE?
Yeah, I co-wrote it with Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy. They’ve actually been working on this book for two years, and I came in on the back end for the finishing process of the book. It’s been a really fun journey. It’s basically about this concept that your church needs to be a place where kids belong, because if a kid doesn’t feel like they belong, then they may not believe. It’s about how to get your church to a place where small groups are the answer to discipleship, where small groups are supported throughout everything that you do.
WHY DO YOU THINK SMALL GROUPS ARE THE ANSWER TO DISCIPLESHIP?
Because I’m convinced that God made us to process truth in the context of relationships. There are different ways that the church has tried to disciple kids. We call them, in the book, concerts and classrooms. Some churches have tried to disciple kids by getting them in a room, as many as possible, and putting on a cool show to engage them. And then there’s the model that some people would call Sunday School, where it’s very focused on educating kids on the Bible. There’s a lot of value in those models, but I think traditionally some of those models are missing relationships. We just think that’s where truth is best processed – in the context of someone who loves them, cares about them, and can model it for them.
“IF THEY DON’T BELIEVE THEN THEY’RE GOING TO STRUGGLE TO BELIEVE.” WHY IS THAT SO IMPORTANT FOR MIDDLE SCHOOLERS?
I think it just goes back to the fact that kids need to belong, especially at that age. They’re trying to figure out who their tribe is, the people that they belong to. Where are they finding their identity? Developmentally, it’s pretty clear across the board that when kids are in that preteen/adolescent stage, they are beginning to find their identity based on their peers. They’re comparing themselves to their peers, they’re looking to their peers for affirmation. They’re looking to other people to affirm them and give them a place to belong. So as the church, we need to be intentional about that, to give them places to belong.
WHY SHOULD A PARENT WANT THEIR KID IN A SMALL GROUP?
Because there’s going to be a day, probably sooner than they might like to admit, that their kid is going to need to talk to someone about something they don’t want to talk to mom and dad about. So I think a parent needs to be intentional about putting people in their kids’ lives who they can talk to. Because there are things that a kid is going to better process with someone who’s not Mom and who’s not Dad. So for small groups in particular, I think it’s a great option for parents to be able to say, “Hey, the church has vetted this person for me. They’ve put somebody in my kid’s life strategically, who they believe in, who they believe will be a great influence on my kid.” It’s like the church is handing parents a person who can help them disciple their kid in the long-term.
WHAT CAN HAVING FUN TOGETHER DO FOR A FAMILY?
I definitely agree that fun is super important. It matters for a kid’s faith, for a kid’s development, and for a kid’s relationships. If you’re familiar with the book Playing for Keeps, which Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy (my favorite co-authors – and only co-authors) wrote together, there’s a whole chapter about fun and why it matters. Basically, the idea is that “Fun over time equals connection.” Fun helps relationships go deeper, it does a lot of things developmentally and relationally for a kid. One thing [from the book] that I thought was really interesting was that mental health professionals are pretty much in consensus that play can actually help kids with emotional and behavioral issues. There’s actually something called play therapy. So if a kid is struggling with broken relationships, or they’re anxious, or depressed, or rebellious, sometimes playing can help solve those problems because it breaks down walls and can help cure anxiety.
IF YOU COULD GIVE PARENTS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Be intentional about putting people in your kids’ lives who can influence them for a consistent period of time, over the long-term. A small group leader, a family friend, whoever that person is, just be intentional about finding people that you trust to say the same thing you would say to your kid. Then put them in your kid’s lives and then give them the freedom to influence your kids.
Thanks again, Radical Parents, for the interview! It was fun!
So what do you think? How would you have responded to some of these questions?