I’m preparing to share at Urban Youth Workers Retreat on the 14th in a workshop entitled “How to Love the Attention Seeker”. As I was working on my outline I caught inspiration to list several things that worked for me (a former attention seeker myself) in regards to feeling loved and blessed by others. All of these methods have touched my heart personally, created fond memories, and caused great change in my life.
I could have listed many other things here, but I wanted to list only the ones that I think ought to be implemented on a larger scale than it is currently. I also wanted to keep them practical, hoping that you as the reader could do any or at least most of these if you desired to do so. I could have included making a missions trip to Asia and taking them with you, but I know for sure that I can’t personally do that. So why would I include it on this list?
Pray for me as I prepare for the retreat, I anticipate having a lot of really good conversations.
One of the criticisms I’ve received for this list is that It doesn’t involve the Bible and Jesus near enough. That it promotes the idea that doing fun things with them is more important than convicting their heart and pointing them vehemently towards the Lord. I’d like to simply acknowledge that concern and clarify that I assume that it is up to the spiritual leader in the relationship to center the discussions and the love prevalent in these interactions on the savior. Ultimately, these relationships have a clear goal in mind, and it is my opinion that should be clear on both sides. We love them because that is what Jesus has moved us to do, let’s not forget that in our desire to pour time into them. Time without love is wasted time.
1. Invite them over for Dinner
This is first, and it’s not by coincidence that I’ve inserted it here. When children sit down and observe a family in operation, their jaws drop wide open. It is fulfilling to see children who may or may not eat with their family, share and pass food in coordination with the rest of the people at the table. You don’t realize it because you are used to it, but having someone at the supper table communicates something very loudly… “You are family to me”. If you don’t want to have that level of commitment with the child/young adult in question, perhaps you need to re-evaluate the true level of commitment you have in the context of your church ministry. There isn’t anything wrong with being too busy for it, but it is damaging to invite someone to be family, but never follow up on it. Use this method with caution but do it often.
When I sat down at a supper table for the first time of my life just over 10 years ago, I recognized quickly that there was something incredibly strange about the people I was eating with. The way that the siblings loved their brothers and sisters. The way the parents kept a solemn but loose control over the table. The way that nobody stared at me or “over-explained” things to me… It was almost as if I had eaten at that table my entire life.
I found out just a couple of years later, that the strangeness I observed in the Shenk family, was indeed supernatural. It was the only hope that I had for a victorious and joyful life. I discovered that very day, for the first time, Jesus being modeled to me in a way that captivated me. And it all happened with some pork, potatoes, and a whole lot of kindness and love. 3 years of Bible school paled in comparison to 1 hour at a supper table.
Be Prepared: They won’t have the manners you would think they should. They are probably deeply intimidated and will either be mute or will seek attention to make up for that awkwardness. If you put on a show (i.e., giving the kids the “You better act right tonight! We have guests…” speech). Then the effectiveness will be put in danger. Be who you really are, and they will notice and deeply appreciate that.
2. Invite Them on Random Drives
Every month I need to drive one hour to my doctor for my monthly check-up. It only recently occurred to me that I could make this a ministry opportunity. We are so quick to press play on our podcasts, or stream our favorite playlist on Spotify, that we don’t think of the availability to make worthwhile conversation with people. Not only are we prone to shorting our friends with our time, we also short our disciples of it as well.
Make the invite complete and honest. “Hey Alex, do you wanna come with me to my doctor’s appointment tomorrow? It’s about an hour away and you should bring money along if you want to get something to eat.”
Now wait a second, what a cheapskate!
You don’t need to invest any more money than the gas it took to get there! And in my case, the money it took for the check-up. (Sheesh)
You can spend hours asking question after question if you honestly care about their lives. If it doesn’t work out well the first time, try again once your relationship is a little more solid. For some of you, this opportunity could give you a weekly chance to invest time into someone who may just need to talk through some things.
Be Prepared: Young people are very stimulated by social media and virtual stimulation. If you choose not to use these methods, you might want to have questions ready in your head to ask. This all depends on the personality you and the young person you are taking along has. Put a little thought into it on the way to pick them up, “What will I do if they get bored”. “Do I have any goals in inviting this specific person?” “Are we stopping to eat on the way back?”
3. Big Brother/Big Sister Relationship or Program
If you are really serious about your commitment to someone who needs Jesus, consider adopting the concept of being their older brother or sister. There are very few church Big brother programs, but you don’t necessarily need a program to do this.
Devote once a month where you take an afternoon to spend time with them. Go hiking, biking, camping, swimming, sight-seeing, etc. Anything you like to do with your “Menno” friends, invite them to do with you personally. If you aren’t comfortable just doing this alone, grab a friend and have her do the same with you. Have a double-date of sorts.
The Tidings of Peace Big Brother Program has in the past had up to 8 sets of big brother and little brothers. We’ve graduated over 10 young men from our program, and some of those relationships remain strong today. If you pour into this method and your church agrees to pursue something like this, we are willing to discuss how we got started and provide some advice. You are also more than welcome to join our current program as well. We can supply little brothers for entire churches if need be. 😊 Contact info is listed at the end of this document.
Be Prepared: Devoting a brother to brother relationship is risky and time-consuming. You will probably cry, or at least want to. They will probably cry and resist you at times. Don’t commit to this avenue of loving them if you are thinking of going into the mission field elsewhere any time soon. It is CRIPPLING to a young person’s heart to see another person walk out on them. Be very careful before committing to something like this.
4. Give Them a Meaningful Gift
Don’t buy city kids guns!!!!! Okay, now that I got that off my chest…
Believe it or not children don’t really feel loved when strangers give them cool things. They are just happy for their new toy. We, as rich people, have to not cop-out and just start buying them things to show our affection.
With that being said not all gifts costs tons of money. Some kids from the city don’t have many pictures to hang on their walls. They don’t have a nice Bible with their name on it. They don’t have an item of significance to remind them of a fond memory.
About 8 years ago, TOP went on their first canoe trip. About 7 of our men took a “little brother” along to spend 5 days on the river. Have you ever taken 7 city kids on a river for a whole week? It’s so unpractical… But boy is it fun!
On that trip the whole group voted on who could have the “Splashing Deleware River Warriors Official Paddle”. No, we weren’t all going to spank them. Instead it was a wooden canoe paddle that we all signed and left encouraging memories on. At the end of the week, one kid took that home. I caught up with him several years later, and his fondest memory of the “Mennonites” was that canoe trip. Sitting in his room to this day? That paddle.
Be Prepared: Sometimes we can set improper expectations by giving significant gits to others. Make it a rare thing, not something you attempt every single time you see them.
5. Invite them to Sunday School/Church
Church isn’t going to be the coolest thing that they ever attend. For some reason, we could always get kids to come to Sunday school though. This opens up the possibility that they can develop relationships with others their age from a Christian background. In our setting, it’s common for us to go quickly pick up some of these kids for Sunday school. We have Sunday school after the morning service, and I know that likely isn’t the case for you. If it’s okay with your Sunday school leader for them to only attend Sunday School, that could be a good way to spark interest down the road for more faithful and complete church attendance. It may surprise you, but a lot of kids are hungering for things to do on Sundays. You opening up your life to them in this way could prove to be something special to them. Even if it only works on 1 out of every 10 you invite, that will still mean a lot to that one that decides to be brave and give it a try. If they’ve stuck around for the end of the service, make sure they’ve got a place to eat!
Be Prepared: This is obviously something that needs to be checked in with whoever is in charge of Sunday school at your church. Church is likely okay, but how will they feel about having them in Sunday School?
Also recognize that getting them to church can not be out primary goal. The culture in Anabaptist churches can overwhelm someone if they are forced into church attendance too aggressively. Let them decide to come, and don’t shame them for being hesitant. It really can be a very uncomfortable experience for them. It’s not as simple as it seems.
6. Go to Their Homes/Neighborhoods
Personally, I hate Christmas caroling. But there is one benefit that ought not be overlooked. The fact that we as a people purposely go to their setting for a change. Mennonites especially seem to me to be good at waiting or inviting people to come join them in their own settings. This isn’t bad at all…
How much more powerful would it be for us to take a trip to their hometown?
As an individual, can you establish a relationship with the parents that allows you to enter their home? Can you sit on their couch? Can you enjoy some of the things they enjoy? Can you play basketball on the court that they always go to? Maybe help them out with their chores?
Be Prepared: Some home situations aren’t safe. Some of them are also very deceptive. I cringed when people from my church talked so nicely about my dad and mom. I knew who they really were, but some seemed to wonder if the things I mentioned about them to others was actually true. Don’t enter the home and use things you learn as leverage in the relationship. Go because that is the loving and kind thing to do.
7. Send Them Really Really Long Letters
This one is admittedly hit or miss. There is a chance that the person you are looking into writing doesn’t enjoy reading or can’t for that matter. Everyone grows up differently and is exposed to these things uniquely. But there is tremendous power in taking the time to tell someone what you appreciate about them with pen and paper.
These letters should be letters of affirmation, not of rebuke or criticism. Letters of criticism are often not as helpful as a discussion in person. However, a letter of affirmation actually has the power to strike the heart better than an actual conversation. Again, it can all depend on the person, but it could really do well. Some of most affirming words I’ve received from people who care about me I’ve never actually heard from them directly. The awesome thing about a letter is that not only did I get the message, but I get to keep it as a gift for years to come. (Actually, I’m terrible at keeping letters, hopefully they do better at this than I do)
Alternative: You know how you send out personal or family pictures to all of your church family and friends? Those Christmas greetings, graduation photos, or those new addition to the family pics? Print enough for the people you know in the city as well. Pictures don’t get passed around much in the city, people live with an increasingly small amount of printed items. I don’t do well at keeping track of those pictures, but if you feel like you are wasting your money then spend the 15 cent for the copy and mail me the bill. You have to pay postage though.
8. Take them Traveling with You
Do you want to know the stories that city kids will tell over and over again? The ones that happened when they were taken to the cabins in Virginia, or to the lake across the state, or to the streets of Pittsburg. Taking them for a weekend to a place you enjoyed as a child will create memories that cause them to smile in the future. It needs to be something overnight though.
The experience in sleeping in a safe, comfortable environment that is far removed from the abuses of family and the stresses of familiar living arrangements can be effective. Make breakfast with them in the morning at the cabin, start campfires, go sight-seeing. Make the trip something they annoyingly bring up over and over again. That’s when you know you’ve communicated something to them. Hopefully it shows them your commitment to them.
Be Prepared: Once you leave home-town, you are on your own. You’ve gotta take care of that kid like he’s your own son or daughter. There is nothing worse than taking your little brother home to his mom with a twisted ankle and scuffed up body from a four-wheeler accident that was your fault not even two days away from the start of school… Luckily, the mom of my little brother has a sense of humor that matches her son’s and she laughed it off.
Not every parent is that way though. One parent, after an accident that happened to her child on a Big Brother Program activity over 10 years ago told us the following. “I won’t press charges, if you stop the program.” We were left with no choice but to honor her wishes and indefinitely pause the program. All because we did not weigh the concept well that we were being entrusted with the safety of several young boys. Ever since we have been careful to have the proper paperwork for sure.
9. Do Memorable Things at Your Own Expense
There are two things that my students and other young people I interact with know about me.
- I was once in Puerto Rico and arm wrestled a girl from my youth group. I not only lost the match, but shattered a re-bar enforced concrete bench in the process. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Gx-7V0qFeo or just simply type in “Keetch Goes Through a Bench”
- On a Big Brother weekend activity in Virginia, I drove a Barbie cart down a steep hill. It didn’t end the way I would have liked it to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V00Nrp8d3YY or just simply type in “Sparkling Springs Nascar Accident”
Both of these embarrassing videos are wonderful memories for not only my little brother Sammy, but many others from York that have seen them. Would I go back and redo these painful things? Nope!
But seeing it bring joy to their lives at my expense helps them to know I don’t take myself too seriously. Something very important if I want to win their heart.
So… Don’t be afraid to be a little extra silly during game time. It can be a good way to loosen everyone up and further grow your relationship with them.
Be Prepared: It takes effort not to lose respect with these things. Just warning you.
10. Now it’s your Turn…
You decide what the 10th, 11th, 12th, and so on methods of discipleship that you’ve never really considered are. If you’d like share them with me personally or in the comment section. If all of these are already a part of your routine then bravo to you! But there is no one way of discipleship. None of these methods work for everyone, and everyone needs their own way interacting with the unsaved. Pick your method/s and do them faithfully.
TOP Big Brother Program Director: Al Stoltzfus—– firstname.lastname@example.org