Milk and Meat
Written by Matt Jacobs, Youth Minister at North Epping Anglican Church
Kids like 'Jack'
I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the year 7 blokes in my youth group - a guy we'll call Jack. Jack asked for a Bible last term, and after he'd read all the books that I recommended in it, he came back asking for more! This guy is great - hyperactive, full of energy, disruptive, but showing a little bit of interest in what we have to say. He’s not from a church family, so he knows nothing about the Bible or church or any of the stuff we’re used to as Christians … but he’s listening! He probably remembers about 1% of stuff he learnt in scripture in primary school, and even though he’d struggle to answer ‘Sunday school’ questions (because he never went to Sunday school), he’s clearly trying hard to think about the questions in small group time.
Kids like Jack are so important to our youth groups. Yes, we want to encourage and build up the church kids and Christian kids, but we also want to reach those who have no normal church contact. As we teach from the Bible, it’s important that we spend some time thinking about where Jack is up to, what he knows, what he’s able to comprehend, and then tailor what we teach to help him take the baby steps he needs. We need to reinforce what he’s learning, but also push him forward just ever so slightly. If we push too hard, too early, we end up going over his head and he risks dropping out because he can’t understand what we’re on about. If we don’t push and stretch a little bit, he runs the risk of not growing and becoming stagnant.
A verse from 1 Peter popped into my head: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (2:2-3)
Milk and Meat
I think Jack is ‘tasting that the Lord is good’. He’s listening and obviously enjoying being there as we talk about God. And as we talk about God from the Bible, there's potentially a lot of meaty stuff that comes up. My youth group is studying Genesis 1-12 at the moment, and if you want to do a bit of work, there's heaps of meat in there!
But Jack’s not ready for meat, he's still needing milk. Spiritually, he's like my daughter Abby. She's 1 year old, but we’ve only just started feeding her meat in the last 2 months, because her tummy can’t digest it! With Abby’s food, up until about 3 months ago, we had to process it all - overcook her veggies, and either mash it or put it in the blender so that it was runny and she could stomach it and digest it.
I reckon it’s the same with preparing our teaching - both talks and small group stuff - we need to process the good stuff we know down into something our kids can understand and digest, and along with understanding the passage for ourselves, we need to think hard about what the kids can stomach and get stuff out of. Not that we compromise the truth, but that we word it in a way they can ‘get’. Sometimes this means cutting meaty things out of talks and discussions, not to throw the meat away forever, but to store it in the freezer for a while until the kids are able to digest it.
Thinking it through
I'm encouraging the youth leaders at my church to spend a bit of one of their quiet times thinking through these questions:
- Who is new to my small group?
- Who is regularly irregular (ie: who comes every second or third week?)
- How much do I know about the spiritual background of the kids in my group? (Church/non-Church; knows nothing/knows and interacts with John Calvin’s TULIP … some of us are going ‘what the?’)
- Can I identify the ‘newborn babies’?
- As I look at the passage for this week (for our group, it's Genesis 3), what is the ‘milk’ that the kids can get out of it? What are the chunky bits of veggies that need a bit of processing? What is the meat that I probably need to chuck in the freezer for now, to defrost and serve up when they’re a little bit more mature?
An example from Genesis 3 for this last question coule be - milk = people disobeyed God, God punishes sin, God offers grace (life, clothing, children in this passage). The processed veggies = explore how sin damages the relationships between people and God, man and woman, people and the earth. If God offers life, children and clothing to Adam and Eve, that's a good sign that he wants to restore things. Notice how God goes searching for the people in verses 8 & 9. The meat ... this is stuff like Romans 5:12-21!
Of course, we do need to consider our established, growing Christian kids as well, and thinking through where they’re at - how much meat in their diet can they handle? I think it’s more appropriate for those kids to be serving them meat at their mid-week Bible Studies, for the sake of their non-Christian mates at youth group. At those mid-week Bible Study groups, we can also encourage them to be thinking through how they can help be involved in feeding milk and processed veggies to their mates on Friday nights.