What do a retired Marine who rides motocross, medical clinic office administrator, schoolteachers, a few grandmothers, and Zumba instructor have in common? These are the heroes who serve as small group leaders for FUSE—a middle school ministry in a little Nazarene church in Erin, Tennessee. They are the ones one with a front row seat to the amazing things God has been up to in our small community.
How did we get our team together?
We have prayed over lists of names, shared stories, cast vision, and called people to think about who their faith heroes were and why. We want them to know that heroes aren’t heroes because they have superpowers and awesome gadgets.
Heroes become heroes when they do something heroic, and sometimes the most heroic thing you can do is look a student in the eye, call them by name, and give them a high-five.
Many times, youth ministries spend countless hours and finances designing the perfect youth space with all the greatest tools and cool things to attract and keep students. Our experience has taught us that those are good things, but what students really need are heroes. The most valuable thing we have ever put in our youth space are adults who love students and we have seen that investment pay dividends.
Every week the doors of Erin Church of the Nazarene fly open and anywhere from 90-180 middle schoolers come flooding off the school bus and into our gym for FUSE.
Our primary goal is to help students fuse to God, fuse to the church, and fuse to each other. We do this through providing space to hang out, playing dodgeball, doing art projects, and participating in Bible art journaling. We spend an hour in worship together talking about how Scripture applies to our world and then share in dinner and small groups together.
FUSE hopes to be more than just a hangout. We hope to be a place where students can take a deep breath and find a moment of peace in their otherwise chaotic lives.
Students like Charlie have found peace and a taste of life that is different from what he sees at home. Charlie comes from a single parent home where he lives with his siblings and already, in middle school, feels responsible for raising them. Food and necessities are scarce. Not necessarily because they are not available, but because Charlie’s mom lives in a cycle of brokenness and bad decisions. Whether it is the constant changing of relationships or fighting her depression, anxiety, and substance dependence, home life is everything but stable. But at FUSE, Charlie has a few key people who check in with him each week. His pastors, his small group leader, and even the volunteers in the dinner line. He sees stability. He sees peace. He sees hope and feels the love of God through these people that assures him of something different from his normal reality.
Then there is Ben who lives in a home with two parents who are fully involved at the church. This is a rarity. I remember a great moment last year when Ben came running up to me one day and said, “Pastor Jeremy, did you hear? I’m going to be a small group leader! But, you know what? I still miss Mr. Steve. He was the best!” Ben knows what it is like to be loved and encouraged by a hero and now is working hard to become one for his peers.
Who is Mr. Steve? Well, Steve is the motocross racing ex-Marine who has been serving as a small group leader since we began groups a few years ago. Steve loves his boys and does a fantastic job of helping them wrestle with faith questions in their group while remaining open to what God is teaching him in the process. This faithfulness and openness has inspired Ben and continues to inspire others.
Finally, there is Kimmy who will graduate this year and attend Trevecca Nazarene University next fall. Kimmy’s grandfather first asked us to reach out to her when she was in the 6th grade. In spite of a broken family situation, middle school drama, mistakes, and questionable friendships along the way, Jesus has done a great work in her life. This transformation has led her to love and lead elementary students and to serve as a camp counselor for years. Like Ben, she points back to those who loved her and stuck with her in some of the weirdest moments of her life.
A FUSE is connection, protection, and an ignition and the middle school ministry at Erin Church of the Nazarene strives to be just that.
We step into the gap for students and try to represent His love in their life by showing up for them consistently, at church and their sports/arts arenas. We create safe spaces and do our best to connect with parents as well. If we can help students connect to Christ, through leaders, and to each other, we know that the light of Christ that sparks within them will continue to spread through them as well.