Yes, I did win.
My wife, Brooklyn, is a Middle School Pastor. Naturally, I find myself hanging around Middle Schoolers most Wednesday Nights. 100 to 120 Middle Schoolers.
Last Wednesday Night, I happened to be sitting at a table eating Chic-fil-A with my daughters before the youth service started. The smell of chicken nuggets activated the natural instinct of hunger in one Middle School boy. He pointed to our food and said, “Is that mine? I”ll take that.”
My reply was, “Sure, you can have it if you can beat me in arm wrestling.” I was totally joking. I thought he would get the hint there’s no way he is getting mine or my daughters’ food. Obviously, his appetite for Chic-fil-A convinced him otherwise.
This 5 ft tall, 70 lb boy sat down at my table and said, “Let’s go.”
“No,” I said. “I’m not going to arm wrestle you.”
“What, are you afraid to lose?” he said.
That was it for me. I won’t be heckled by a Middle School boy. We put our elbows on the table, gripped each others hands, and started the match on the count of three.
Slowly, I pressed the back of his hand to the table. “Let’s do it, again” he challenged. We did. Only this time he wrestled with two arms to my one. Same result. With a bit more struggle, I lowered his hand to the table.
Then, he called over his buddy. They arm wrestled me together, with their four arms to my one. Finally, I lost.
Yet, somehow I think I still won. I didn’t win the match. But, I did win an opportunity to build a new relationship with a group of Middle Schoolers that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Arm wrestling opened a door for me. It brought me into the world of Middle School boys. It allowed them to see me as someone who can get on their level.
Here’s what arm wrestling taught me about connecting more effectively:
- Don’t try too hard to impress, just be yourself.
- Allow yourself to be young again.
- Interact in ways beyond “police-ing” their behavior.
- Get comfortable with looking silly.
- Challenge Middle School boys to a friendly competition.
- The less you worry about being awkward, the less they will worry about it.
- Don’t expect Middler Schoolers to act like adults.
You might be thinking, “Hanging out with Middle Schoolers is not my thing.” You may be right. You may not need to speak to a thirteen year old. BUT, they need you.
As the older generation of Christ followers, I pray we don’t neglect their need. If arm wrestling opened the door for me with one group of boys, I’m sure God is creative enough to use something about you to do the same.
How do you connect with Middle Schoolers? What advice would you give to others who haven’t quite figured it out yet?