In my youth group, all those years ago in the 90's, a guy named Tim helped lead during the meeting. He wasn't a pastor, but he had a little more authority than the twenty-something college intern leaders. And on the four or five Sundays when he gave the message, I sat on the edge of my seat. If beanbag chairs have edges.
Did Tim have really compelling, life-changing messages? Yeah, definitely. Was he just young enough to know what music and movies to reference? Enough, sure. But that's not why I got excited to see Tim take the microphone. On those Sundays, I thought to myself, "Oh dang, anything can happen. Five bucks says he accidentally swears again."
As a youth leader myself, I like to think I'm the Tim of the Lifehouse youth group. Yes, I also have accidentally sworn during a meeting. Apparently Apples To Apples can occasionally pull the "D" word out of me. This past Wednesday, I learned of one huge difference between Tim and myself. Tim may have been a bit of a wild card and have fun with the youths, but he also had great leadership in his teaching.
The elder who oversees the Lifehouse youth group was away on business and gave me the responsibility of leading the meeting. We planned on beginning a series on grace, but I let myself get so busy I forgot to plan an actual message.
My solution? Buy candy as an object lesson, give a three paragraph explanation of the difference between grace and mercy, then ask "any questions?" Guess how many questions I got? Not as many as I needed to fill time. Mostly crinkling Starburst wrappers and smacking noises. Instead of pulling more teaching out of thin air, I decided the best thing to do was play games for an hour and a half.
James 3:1 says, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brothers, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." I used to read that passage and tell myself he was talking to people who thought they wanted to be teachers, but it applies to anyone. Even if you don't want to be a teacher, think about how much advice you give, or think about how people might watch what you do and adopt your traits. We're always teaching, even if we're not speaking.
Now, I thought I was doing the right thing and not imparting half-thought-out teaching to impressionable teenagers, but I forgot that people teach way more than they speak. Did the youths learn more from how I forgot to pray before the message? Did they learn that having fun is more important than digging into the subject of grace? I don't know, but I hope not.
Thankfully, verse 2 of James 3 says, "For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well." So I didn't get a hit this time at the plate. I've taught at least one good message out of the three I've now given, and that's a good average in baseball terms. I'm still learning. That's why church leadership only has me pinch hitting once in a while. They don't just forgive me for the blunders, they keep giving me opportunities.
Now that's a gift I don't deserve. I wonder if maybe I learned more about grace from this experience than any of my youths.
Have you ever found yourself on the spot and unprepared? How did you handle it?