**This is a guest post from Nick Diliberto from PreteenMinistry.net
After 8 years of fighting the idea, I finally agreed to get a family dog. Her name is BonBon and she is a Chihuahua and Dotson mix, Chiweenie for short. After the first week, I quickly became attached to her. Good thing, since I am usually the one to give her a walk in the evening.
Attached to a leash, she goes absolutely nuts. It’s like she’s ADHD and been given a triple shot of espresso with extra sugar! Recently, I was walking her on the boardwalk near the bay and decided to let her go. I took off the leash and you would have thought she won the lottery. She was in heaven running all around, rolling in the dirt and sniffing every smell imaginable. But the cool thing is that she earned my trust. She kept up with me as I walked at a steady pace. When I called her, she came to me. She needed some freedom, so I decided to let go and stay close by.
When it comes to leading preteens, our job is to let go but stay close by. Preteens are able to own their relationship with Jesus. They want to experience God on their own and engage with Him in everyday life. They are moving towards independence in all areas of life, including their spiritual lives.
In order for preteens to take the first steps with God, leaders need to let go. Letting go means we encourage them to ask questions about God, Jesus and the Bible. We’re not afraid to let them ask tough questions and guide them to search for the answers. We allow preteens to own the ministry and give them opportunities to lead. We give opportunities to hear what God is speaking to them during programming. We ask preteens what topics are relevant and structure series around their responses.
Letting go is important, but so is staying close by. We walk alongside of them and their parents offering guidance, support, prayer and encouragement. When they mess up, we help them get back up. When they come up with weird conclusions from the Bible way out in left field, we guide them back to the truth. When life hits them hard and their parents get divorced or a family member dies, we stick close by.
BonBon needed freedom and I took the risk of letting go. Preteens need some freedom in order to truly own their relationship with Jesus. Leaders can offer that freedom by letting go and staying close by.
Nick Diliberto is the creator of PreteenMinistry.net, which provides creative curriculum and resources for preteen ministry. He’s also the preteen columnist for Children’s Ministry magazine and Children’s Pastor at Seven San Diego Church in southern California.