If you’ve ever tried to lead a middle school small group bible study for more than about 3.5 minutes, you’ve experienced the universal struggle that all leaders face: Tangents.
Ah, tangents; those wonderful little diversions. If you’re like most junior high small group leaders you probably feel like tangents are rarely wonderful and almost never little! I’ve got some bad news and some good news for you.
The bad news: You will never eliminate tangents.
The good news: You can minimize them and actually make them beneficial to the group.
Let me share a few thoughts about getting you and your small group out of tangent trouble.
- Not all tangents are terrible.
If you were actually able to trace the origins of the tangents your junior highers lead you down, you might be surprised to discover that most of them actually start off as an honest observation or question about the bible study or topic that is being discussed. What this means is that tangents don’t always originate because students are bored with the small group, but rather, because they are engaged and the discussion is sparking something in those strange, little minds.
- All spiritual discussion is good discussion.
Here’s what I mean. When a tangent takes over a group, it usually goes one of two ways: First, it may go down a crazy, windy path towards television shows, the cute kid at school or the price of tea in China. In these cases, you probably want to try to bring the tangent to an end as quickly as possible for the sake of your bible study time. But a second route tangents take is simply a small diversion from the original question or topic. These tangents typically stay spiritual in nature but add an unsuspected twist or turn. In my opinion, tangents that are still spiritual in nature are worth pursuing. If 7th grade boys want to talk about why bad things happen to good people instead of your study on the Beatitudes, LET ‘EM! If you find them going down some tangent trail about helping the needy in the middle of your study of Exodus, GREAT! When these types of tangents arise, I suggest going with them instead of shutting them down.
- You can slam the breaks on a tangent.
When you do feel like it’s time to bring a tangent to an end or to head it off before it starts, here is a super basic method:
Brian: Hey mister small group leader, do dogs go to heaven?
Mister Small Group Leader: That’s a great question, Brian. Why don’t you track me down after our bible study time and we’ll talk about it then.
I predict we will have people living in condos on Mars before we figure out how to end middle school tangents. Instead of trying to end them, I vote for leaders who determine to use tangents for good in their groups. I also vote for condos on Mars—that would be so stinkin’ sweet!