Wednesday Evening Session: John 5:1-15, Healing at the Pool at Bethseda.
There are times where it just doesn’t matter what you do…it’s going to be rough night. You can see it coming, know it’s coming…and it just doesn’t matter. This one was of those nights. First, the students were ALL over the place. That’s nothing new for anyone who has ever led a bible study with teens. The randomness is always there, the rabbit chasing is part of the journey. Most of the time, you can funnel it to where you want.
Second, apparently the parents of the teen had a pow-wow over the afternoon and were starting to implement curfews for the students. After a week of being able to run around where they wanted to go when they wanted to do it, the reigns were being pulled in.
Thirdly, this was the start of their 2nd week here. There are a couple of, well…I wouldn’t call it dating, wouldn’t call ’em flings but let’s just say there are some students who are EXTREMELY interested in each other and the distraction factor is getting higher every day.
You pick up some tricks along the way working with students in terms of recapturing or refocusing your group. As a younger youth pastor, I made a lot of bonehead, arrogant, hurtful mistakes. I’d call down a student or two, shaming them to listen. I’d get them quiet but missed their hearts. It always took more work afterwards to rebuild that relationship.
But even the best of the best have nights where you know there isn’t a thing you can do to stop the train wreck. It’s just going to happen. At that point, put down your agenda and pick up some popcorn and watch it unfold. You’ll learn something but hopefully you’ll learn it without having to make everyone in the room angry.
Here we are in this room, 7 different conversations going on and I did that. I mentally checked out and just started watching. One student is building a house of cards on the table in the middle. Two other students are arguing whether verse 4 of chapter 5 is inspired or not because the earliest manuscripts didn’t have it. Another couple is trying to figure out what they are going to do after our session. Another is bummed about have to work childcare in the morning.
I’ve watched this unfold with some of my volunteer leaders before and I’d smile at them while shrugging. “You know…some nights it’s like this. Shake it off, try it again next time.” But it was me in the room instead. So I just sat there – arguing with myself.
You should throw the hammer down.
No, let’s see how far out this will go.
Take charge, you’re the adult, they’re not.
But they are future adults and they are going to have to get to a point where they do Bible Study because they WANT to, not have to. This may be a key link in the chain.
You traveled halfway around the globe to teach them.
Maybe I traveled halfway around the globe to learn from them.
I don’t know how long this went on. But after a few minutes, it was observed that I wasn’t really participating in the festivities. And then “IT” happened. Instead of a wreck, the train seemed to find another set of rails that I didn’t even knew existed. We were going to have a couple of hard turns and lurches but maybe the disaster could be avoided.
It started with the two guys who were arguing over the validity of John 5:4. They asked me for my opinion. A chance to shift the conversation…”it’s not important what we think about John 5:4 if we don’t know what the bigger story is that God is writing here. If we can’t see the bigger story, the details are worthless.”
Smart people, religious people are good at this. It’s called straining out the gnat, swallowing the camel. You’re figuring out what is in the microscope without first figuring out what is in the telescope. Molecular biology is as only good as it connects to the whole.
The two guys sort of get it, they start pushing back, another student joins in, then another. Some more pushing.
“Don’t equate details with deepness. Deep doesn’t mean mature.”
“The details” are what makes people think we are smarter than what we really are and it’s completely possible to miss God totally in the process. Exhibit A: The Pharisees. It’s not deep. It’s not mature. Jesus called it spiritual blindness.
The story in John 5 – the “deep, mature” people were concerned that a guy who hadn’t walked in 38 years was carrying his mat on the Sabbath.
We finally got there – unpacking the scripture but it was returning to my room later that I had the real epiphany. There was a moment when I could have really tried to take it over and I didn’t. And that was okay because that meant I had absolutely nothing to do with that whole session. Nothing.
Sometimes the hardest decision leaders have to make is the decision to do nothing and just let it play out. It’s a hard decision because it’s easy to critique and second-guess from the outside looking in and leaders hate having their decisions second-guessed.
It would have been okay if it had completely crashed. Wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I’m glad it didn’t but God is big enough to handle my failures anyway.