One of my good friends is an elementary gym teacher. If he were to ask his students what they wanted to play during gym class, they would reply: “Pom, pom, pullaway!” This is their favorite game. If they were given a choice, this is what they would choose every single time. My friend, however, knows that while his students want to play this game all the time, it is not what they need every time. Students need a variety of physical activity, not just the same thing every time.
If I were to ask our elementary students what they wanted to play at church in the gym, they would respond with “Dodgeball!” And we play a lot of dodgeball! In fact, because of their love of dodgeball, we have 7 or 8 versions of dodgeball so we won’t play the same exact kind each time. There are a few students, however, that are not that fond of dodgebal and would like to play something else. It’s not that they won’t play dodgeball, they would prefer a variety versus a continual obsession.
This is where confident leadership enters.
Just because students want something, doesn’t mean they need something.
If you are a parent, you already understand this tension. If given a choice of options for food, my two lovely daughters would choose bread with jelly… EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. For some reason, bread with jelly is their favorite food of choice. I would be a horrible parent, according to a nutritionist, if I let my daughters consume only bread with jelly (and the occasional influx of candy). So while I know what they like, they only get what they want in measured amounts. Why? Because I know what is good for them.
Same things with physical activity whether in the gym at school or playing games in the gym at church. As a leader, as an adult, I know that the same thing over and over again is not what they need, no matter how much they want it. What I have learned as a leader is to use what they want to get at what they need. If I have a half-hour with students to play, I’ll play a couple of “unpopular” games first with the promise of dodgeball to follow. This appeases the die-hard dodgeball fans as well as the students who would like to play a variety. However, we NEVER play the same game twice in a row. So if we played Trench Dodgeball one week, we would play Elimination Dodgeball the next week.
As leaders, we shouldn’t structure ministry programming (physical activity, intellectual study, or emotional engagement) solely around the likes and dislikes of students. Nor should we ignore the likes and dislikes of our students. The trick is, like my daughter’s bread with jelly, to dispense their wants in measured amounts. To give them what they need in and through what they want.
Either that, or somehow convince them that what they want is really what they need. Now this would be a neat trick!!