I’m about to address something that no one ever really explained to me when I was a fledgling youth leader:

The elusive and fleeting “Aha Moment”.

Maybe this is just something that can’t be explained well until you find yourself in the thick of working with kids. So maybe veterans don’t see fit to try to break it down into tangible concepts for greenhorn leaders. Or maybe the concept is so ephemeral that, by its very nature, it cannot be wrestled down into logical explanation.

Either way, it’s a reality I’ve found myself confronted with in ministry…and I know I can’t be alone in that.

Firstly, let me dispel the notion that every single lesson you ever teach needs to be an out-of-the-park hit. I think we often fall into the trap of judging our effectiveness as Christian leaders by the reaction of our students–but this is as ludicrous as telling every journalist that they need to convert their entire reading audience to their own personal opinions with every story they write. It’s not possible. Our job is simply to present God’s eternal truths–the depth of the sacrifice Christ made for us, the reality of the Father’s endless love for us, the eternal glory we look forward to in heaven–to our students, as best we can with the gifts God has equipped us with.

Simply put, a light bulb going off in the mind of every kid sitting in your youth group or classroom is definitely not a guarantee in our line of work.

Sometimes, it feels like we’ve accomplished something if our students haven’t stuffed a cheese puff up their noses or smacked someone in the head with a Bible over the course of the event. (I know several of you are nodding in agreement with me, aren’t you? That means you work with seventh grade boys on a regular basis–I know I’m right.)

But back to this “Aha Moment” thing. What is it, exactly?

I define it as that moment when the Holy Spirit cracks someone in the head, and you see the light go off in someone’s head as the weight of a significant realization dawns on them. It’s that time when the Word of God sinks into a student–whether it’s a whole new section of Scripture that they’ve never before read, or a new understanding of a Scripture they’ve already had in their hearts–and they experience a moment like Cleopas and his friends spoke about in Luke 24:32, when they encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Well–maybe the Holy Spirit doesn’t “crack someone in the head”. But you know what I’m saying.

It doesn’t happen every day, or with every student. Sometimes it doesn’t even happen in the classroom or youth center, but in the midst of conversations or circumstances of everyday life. I suspect that often, it occurs and you don’t even realize it. But those moments in which you do see a significant truth hit someone and the comprehension blossom across his face is something to treasure. It’s like a tiny sliver of heaven that God allows you to see on earth. It’s a small affirmation that you are doing something vitally important for the kingdom, and an incredible understanding that the Holy Spirit is flowing through you to others in a very real way.

Sometimes the most meaningful “Aha Moments” have occurred at times when I never would have expected a student to grasp a serious concept. I went on a mission trip this summer, and ironically, a life-changing “aha” occurred in one chaotic van trip, where a student started out asking an absurd question and I jumped on it as I recognized what it was: a serious question about God, thinly disguised as a stupid remark. I’ll never forget hearing that student utter, “Oh, wow, that’s a good way of thinking about that,” as I glanced in the rearview mirror at his face and saw total comprehension dawning.

As I said earlier, these “Aha Moments” sometimes take months–or even years–to occur. I guess that’s why I label them “elusive” in my own mind, because it seems like they’re rare nuggets in the endless day-to-day of our lives.

I led a small group of middle school girls for a few years. Those girls hung out with my co-leader and me constantly, sitting with us at football games, watching movies at our houses, and eating meals with us. And it wasn’t until I had known some of these girls for three years that I witnessed their “Aha Moments”. But that made those moments all the more poignant, as I realized how rare they really are.

The other thing you have to realize, in dealing with “Aha Moments”?

They don’t last long. At all. Especially with middle school kids.

Don’t be alarmed when you have a student so moved by an “Aha Moment” that they’re speechless–and then ten seconds later, they’re chucking a liter of soda across the table at their friends and giggling like nothing even happened.

Something did happen. And it was important.

We are often tempted to undervalue these moments. To tell ourselves that it’s too challenging, too drawn-out, or too laborious. But these brief seconds of understanding punctuate the hearts and souls of the kids we love–and it changes their lives, leaving indelible fingerprints on them as they grow up.

2 Peter 3:18 says it well: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

These “Aha Moments” are moments in which our students grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior–and they are indeed glorious.