Love is preteen ministry! Don’t believe me? Permit me to reveal the secret to really loving preteens.
For if I’m culturally hip and am truly smarter than a fifth-grader, but have not love, I’m just irritable chalkboard scratching. If I know all preteen slang, fashion, and culture and hold a Ph.D. in preteen development, but lack love, I’m an empty-headed fool. If I skillfully teach Scripture that moves mountains of the mind but have no love to change habits of the heart, my ministry is meaningless. If I burn my budget on every resource, curriculum, or conference, and if I exhaust every waking hour to become a respected expert in preteen ministry, but fail to love kids, I’ve accomplished nothing.
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Love is patient. It looks past goofiness and gross talk. It suffers through immature attempts to belong. Love models kindness, even when kids aren’t kind. It corrects misbehavior with gentleness and self-control. It blesses preteens who only hear curses. Love is likeable.
Love doesn’t envy greener pastures or better situations. Real love stakes a claim, stands its ground, and sticks to the plan. You may not have the biggest budget or the most relevant resources; your class or church may be small. Let God be God and trust his plan for ministry.
Love isn’t arrogant. You don’t always have to be correct, first, or best. Love resists rudeness and doesn’t instigate revenge. It forgives kids who mock your fashion and derail your lesson. It never answers insult with injury.
Love is completely selfless in nature. It recognizes ministry as God’s work, not yours. It sacrifices time, talent, and treasure to become all things to every child so you may reach even one. Love is slow to anger and never harbors hate. When boys light your fuse, love quenches the flame. When girls get your goat, love leads with forgiveness. Love works without conditions, strings, or motives.
Love pursues truth. It honors integrity and abhors insolence. Love protects the powerless, backs the bullied, and helps the hurting. It won’t tolerate flippant insult or off-color humor. It relentlessly seeks God’s wisdom in teaching his Word and equips preteens to love and follow Jesus.
Love is hopeful. It doesn’t see what is but imagines what can be. It designs dreams in preteens’ hearts where only nightmares haunt. Love never retreats or resigns. That’s why love can’t fail or fade. And neither can you.
For in the end, three things mark preteen ministry: faith, hope, and love. And love reigns with preteens.
Rick Chromey, D.Min., is a contributing author to Children’s Ministry in the 21st Century (Group) and works for the George Fox University Center in Boise, Idaho.