Like many (…most?…all?) parents, I often find myself wondering whether my kids listen to me at all. I’m fully expecting my mother to leave a comment to the effect of, “That’s payback kid; good old-fashioned justice.”
And while I’m relatively certain that there are, in fact, plenty instances of “not-listening,” over the past couple weeks I’ve watched something truly amazing unfold with Conner, my first-born son. We decided to let him participate in LTC (Leadership Training for Christ) this year. For my non-Church of Christ friends who may not know, LTC is a pretty big deal for a lot of CofC kids in 3rd-12th grade. Students can enter a wide-range of individual and group events associated with various aspects of Christian leadership and discipleship. Many of these are related to things that take place in a worship service, Sunday school, or other formal religious gathering – such as chorus, drama, puppets, speech, Bible reading, and song leading. Part of the idea here is to give kids a chance to learn how to participate in such things with confidence and competence.
Conner decided to do Bible Reading and Speech. The kids actually lead The Gathering’s worship liturgy each week, so Bible Reading (as in, reading Scripture aloud during a worship service) wasn’t really a new concept to Conner…but he certainly doesn’t have much experience giving a speech to a room filled with both family and strangers!
Each year LTC focuses on a certain book of the Bible. This year the study was on Exodus, with the theme of “Called Out.” It just so happens that for several months, The Gathering has been reading from Exodus and Matthew – paying special attention to the gospel writer’s literary technique of paralleling the Exodus narrative in how Jesus’ story unfolds. As Conner and I started working together on his reading and speech, we did a quick recap of what we’ve learned from our study. We talked about how the “Called Out” theme fit really well with so much of what we say and do together – as a family and as a faith community. I mentioned that this theme was one that is present from beginning to end in the Bible – and that much of it had direct connections to the story of deliverance (and calling) in Exodus. He asked for examples and I mentioned a pair of my own favorites – Isaiah 61 and Luke 4. After we looked at them he was done thinking – he said, “Yes, I’m using these.” So, that evening I told him more about the context, setting, and implication of those two passages.
Conner selected part of Isaiah 61 for his Bible Reading, and then started working on speech ideas from Luke 4. We did this together, and I focused most of my energy on teaching him how to go about thinking through, outlining, and writing a speech. Actually, I taught him a couple simple and effective sermon prep techniques – I rarely preach formal “sermons” these days (its mostly dialog in our community) and when I do, I use a very different style, but this is a solid starting point. (For my preacher friends: my 4th grade son would make Tom Long proud with his use of focus and function statements, and he now has a pretty good grasp of Paul Scott Wilson’s “4 Pages” tool.)
When it came time to start writing, I helped a little, but I really wanted him to be able to call this speech his own. We assigned time frames to each of his 4 sections and he wrote each in turn…and that was when I started getting chills.
As he switched back and forth from hand-writing and dictating to me while I typed, there were statements, sentences, and even whole paragraphs that sounded just like what I would have said…like things I often DO say…like the things I say when I’m wondering if he’s hearing any of it.
I am very committed to encouraging each of my boys to develop their own voice; to think for themselves and even to question my beliefs…but I’m not going to pretend that, as a father, I didn’t have to fight back tears when my son chose these words at this moment…and I won’t pretend that I’m not blinking through them even now as I type this post.
So…that’s enough of my rambling. Here is my son, 10 year-old Conner Wells, (with a couple moments of background audio support from the other intrepid Wellsbrothers, Micah and Josiah.)
…yes, that was awesomeness.