Several years ago, I was launching small groups as a part of our elementary program, which meant I was teaching and filling in as an SGL wherever needed. On one particular Sunday I was leading a group of 2nd and 3rd grade boys. I don’t remember exactly what the bottom line was, but it had something to do with responding to disappointment. I remember going “off script,” in an effort to really connect with these boys. I went personal. I told them a tragic story that happened to me as a 2nd grader when I was riding the bus home from school on the last day before Christmas break. As I was getting off the bus, I said something to the bus driver about what Santa was going to bring me and she looked me square in the face and said, “Aren’t you old enough to know that Santa isn’t real?”
It was an incredible connection to disappointment that is vividly real to the age of boys who were sitting in my group… but then I realized something very important. Going “off script” in an “off the cuff” manner didn’t take into account that some of these might still fully believe in Jolly St. Nick! I looked around the circle and saw a couple of wide eyes. I quickly shifted to recover mode and with as much passion as I could muster I exclaimed, “Can you believe that my bus driver would say something as horrible and totally untrue as that?” Whew! Close call. I didn’t get any phone calls or emails, so my recovery must have worked. Unfortunately, my recovery shifted the bottom line from dealing with disappointment to dealing with mean things people say. Oops.
So, what did I learn from this experience? Two things:
Making it Personal is powerful. When you can share an (appropriately) personal experience with your few about how you overcame, or maybe how you didn’t overcome, an obstacle that connects to the bottom line, you give them more than curriculum ever could on its own. You give them something practical instead of a theory. You give them something relevant instead of a disconnected idea. Most importantly, you give them a piece of you. Relationally, they connect to you in a way that builds vulnerability and trust.
Being Present means coming prepared. You can avoid situations like my Santa debacle when you come to the conversation prepared. I’m not talking about reading over the notes a few times, but imagining the how the conversation is going to go when you ask your few some questions. Coming prepared means having a personal story or two that will both drive the point home and connect you with your kids… without destroying the childhood wonder that is Santa.