Do you remember the old, school-yard baseball game chant – “We need a pitcher not a belly-itcher”? Did you ever have the traumatic moment playing some version of baseball and have a group start chanting that phrase at you? It usually happened after a couple bad throws or after you had lost your “heat”. Sometimes it was just to complete mess with you.
The phrase however has been ringing in my ears lately, when it comes to how we teach our
Middle Years (5th-9th) students. It is in a slightly different way, but it still holds some of the same emphasis and thought. Are we “on the ball” when it comes to our teaching or are we just throwing out lesson that are “belly-itchers”?
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears (*and bellies?) they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions…” 2 Tim. 4:3 (NASB)
I love wiffle balls. Who doesn’t? It is how we all started playing baseball. My son used to love to grab his little toy pitching machine, load it up with wiffle balls and slug away in the backyard. They are fun, easy to hit and great for younger players. They also hold great memories of childhood but if you are going to play a serious game of baseball as an adult you can’t stay playing with a wiffle ball.
So, are we “wiffle ball teaching” our students? Are we creating and teaching lessons that are based on childish and immature things? It is easy to offer up a nice fun lesson on an easy to handle topic that our student will have no problem “knocking over the fence”. There may be a time and place for that, but these middle years are also the time to dig deep with students. It’s a critical time that sets them up for the rest of their teenage years and beyond into young adulthood.
It might be time we step up our game and warm up the arm for something a bit more!
Church softball is a bit more intense and competitive than wiffle ball. There are more rules, teams, and the ball pitched. The game is certainly a step up from wiffle ball. However, most of the time spectators are half paying attention, texting and chatting as they watch the slow game. The main players may be taking it serious, but everyone else is just kind of there.
Does this sound like our group and our lessons times? What are our lessons about and what are they like? Are our lessons just a slow lob of a few big topics, wedged in between fellowship and relationship building?
I can’t count the number of times I have heard that middle years students don’t listen, and they won’t remember what we teach – so just do whatever because relationships are the point anyway. What would happen if while building solid relationship and fellowship times, we also took on some hard topics in a way that was interesting, intelligent and informing? Our world is playing hardball with our students on big topics and in life.
Are we pitching them lessons that are going to prepare them to start making some solid hits and prepare them for the big league of adulthood faith?
Have you ever got a solid hit off, of a great fast ball pitch? The feeling of a hard ball coming at you is scary and exciting at the same time. You want to hit it and not get hit. The skilled, strong pitcher stares you down and then gives it all they got. It comes in hard, fast and close.
We need to go from the wiffle ball of childhood topics, incorporate some of the church softball of fellowship and fun, and move on to something that is going to make a big impact. It’s time for us to include some hardball teaching.
It might be the moment to hit our students square in the head (in a good way). We as skilled, prepared pitchers of God’s Word. It takes wisdom and practice to take aim at where are student are at. The hope is that they will be able to handle it and take a good solid swing at what we are throwing. If they don’t get a good hit, they might also learn just as much by getting hit in the head with the power of God’s Word that is being taught (Heb. 4:12).
It is time to start playing more hardball!
DAN ISTVANIK is the 5th to 8th-grade pastor at Victory Church in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 20 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting he is also the youth ministry content writer for Parent Ministry.Net, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources like Youthworker Journal, Group Magazine, Download Youth Ministry, and more. Additional he shares daily Jr. high/middle school ministry specific resources, and hints on his own blog “The Middle Years” at WWW.MIDDLEYEARSMINISTRY.COM