This morning I was grateful to lead a sixth grade boys Bible study. Exactly thirty boys entering their teen years were mostly respectful, and enthusiastic. Sometimes rowdy, mostly funny, and definitely happy to be there among friends, they returned each time to listening to an adult persuade them to trust God and live in His goodness. Thankfully I know many by name, so I can speak into their lives with credibility.
I spoke on Training Partners, a connection between two recent messages and Scripture passages they recently heard taught by men they respect.
A training partner is someone who invests in you, and you in them, as you grow stronger in a shared area of our lives. In middle school lingo, it is the guys we share life with in doing challenging things (sports, homework, etc.). They recognize the difference between trying and training, and that alone helps us see all the people who help us succeed in life. Even as we considered many ‘solo’ sports (golf, tennis, motorcross, being their examples). How many of us create our own gear, or drive ourselves to the course/court? Did we entirely teach ourselves how to play? If we’re wise, we watch others and want to do what they do how they do it. In fact, that’s why we wanted to play that sport to begin with — someone introduced us to it, and made our playing possible.
After some opening stories building common ground (about learning everything about basketball directly from my brothers teaching me, including me, coaching me, and playing with me), they were amazed at how my brothers could at one point dunk a basketball. (They are 5-foot-8.) My two older brothers were my ‘training partners,’ teaching me and challenging me in all things concerning sports. We shot thousands of baskets in the rain and snow in the back alley, dribbled with our left hands for hours with our eyes closed, and watched game tape together. At some point they and I outgrow those roles, and God brought new people into my life. (While at the time I did not appreciate everything my brothers did for me and to me, their influence in my life in the areas of diligence, self-control, teamwork, courage, and athletic has shaped who I am as husband and father today.)
Middle school boys cannot think that far ahead in life, but they can relate to the desire to be as good as someone else in a sport, and like someone else in character. Here we were considering people with talent and character, the combination of which should be honored and followed.
Narrative gives us a helpful tool to teach truth in a concrete way. Every word of what I said was true, and I pray it was real and relevant to them, bringing clarity to what they are experiencing and relating to as adolescent boys. God is at work in their lives. They meet every week for this study, see one another at school, and share many of the same experiences on the court as teammates. And yet every kid is unique.
We related to two passages they are somewhat familiar with [2 Timothy 2:1-7, with a theme training vs. trying], and Philippians 2:19-30 [Timothy and Epaphroditus (or “EP” for short), both of whom are worth respecting, honoring, and celebrating for their godly character]. For middle schoolers we use the New Living Translation (NLT), a helpful but faithful paraphrase that delivers concepts in more concrete expressions.
Then we took time to discuss and write our own responses to three statements:
- Who are your TRAINING PARTNERS in life? (I clarified: Write down at least one adult and one other boy your age. Who really are the training partners with whom you share life?)
- Starting right now, this is the name of one Christian whom God wants me to encourage: _____________
- Starting right now, here is the name of one non-Christian whom God wants me to reach out to: _____________
Note that many of these boys may not yet be Christian, but are engaging in some ‘Christian’ behavior here at an organized Bible study. I did not parse with them the various differences, for that concept wouldn’t yet make sense to them. The cool thing is that when the persons written down for #2 and #3 are also on our short list on #1, we have shared experiences where God can work. We don’t have to look very far for our ‘training partners’ in life, thinking about how we influence one another.
We adults can do well to consider how our lives influence others, and especially how others shape us through their words, character, and good works.
WHO are your answers to these three questions?