Written by Aaron Helman
It was back-to-school night for our Junior High students, and I was about to screw up.
We’d introduced all of the new sixth graders, who were just two days away from their first day in Junior High; and it was time to gather everyone together for prayer.
That’s when I launched into an ill-advised impromptu speech about the importance of praying for God to help us get through the school year.
“Listen, I know how miserable middle school is…”
It was probably the worst thing I could have said.
If your students trust you on matters of faith, they’ll trust you on everything else too. Be careful what you tell them.
After the prayer, one of the new sixth graders was sitting in the corner of the room, crying her eyes out; which is always a good way to welcome new students into youth group.
You can already guess why she was crying. She was already scared about going to a new school, and hearing her new youth pastor confirm those fears put her over the edge.
I wanted to teach students about the importance of prayer; the only message she learned was that her middle school life was probably going to be awful.
Not only had I failed to communicate my most important message, I’d also made the dangerous mistake of priming those new sixth graders with a negative expectation for their middle school experience.
Want to guess what happens when people go into a new experience expecting it to be terrible?
It usually turns out terrible.
And in the exact same way, when someone expects something to turn out well, their experience usually reflects that.
That’s called confirmation bias, and the research is clear. People have a tendency to favor the information that confirms their original expectations.
In other words, I likely helped teach a room full of junior high students to hate school.
The Lessons We Never Meant to Teach
It may not seem like it, but every word you speak has the power to teach something. And the way a teenager’s mind works, you can’t always be certain that your most important sentence will be the thing that’s remembered.
It’s six years later, and I’m sure that girl couldn’t remember a word I shared on the importance of prayer, but she can remember exactly how scared she felt in the corner of that room.
That funny story you told about the all-nighter you pulled in college reinforced someone’s bad study habits more than it pointed them to Jesus.
That time you helped pull off that incredible prank encouraged students toward something else other than the cause of Christ.
Your angry tweets during your team’s fourth quarter meltdown taught something other than patience.
Your students watch and learn from you, even when you’re not trying to teach them.
What are they learning?
Liked this blog post, then you’ll also love this one that Aaron wrote – 3 Lessons I Learned About Youth Ministry When I Became a Parent
Aaron Helman is on a mission to end youth worker burnout by providing the training and resources that you haven’t been taught… until now. Smarter Youth Ministry exists to help you learn how to manage their time and resources better so that you can do more ministry with less frustration. All of that having been said, you most likely know him as the creator of “Lamentation or Taylor Swift Lyric.”