Since basically the beginning of this school year, I have been leading/teaching primarily our middle school ministry. I was kind of hesitant to say the least, and honestly, not as excited as I should have been. I really like having "deep" conversations that stay on one topic longer than 30 seconds. I'm older and not very energetic, I don't keep up on how Miley Cyrus is doing on the charts, I get easily confused when the BFF changes weekly, just to name a few more that came to mind. But many months later...I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Middle School ministry. I have never finished any of my degree plans, but I love to learn, so I've become a student majoring in all things Middle School related. I've read lots of books and articles to help understand these young teenagers and how they work. I've learned a lot about them (and myself!) along the way:
-Middle school kids are coming into youth ministry as concrete thinkers. They are gaining the ability to think abstractly, but it's a new tool for them. A muscle that they haven't used much prior to the age of 12...so it will take time and practice to really use it well. So through-out Middle School, teenagers will float in and out of concrete and abstract thinking. This is important why??? Well, in case you haven't noticed, much of our faith is some pretty abstract stuff. A concrete thinker believes that this morning he was sad, then he played with his dog and got happier. So, the dog made him happy. And then you want to explain to this guy how the Kingdom of God is inside of him and at work through him. In the middle of a lesson, you can be teaching on using your gifts, when a 7th grader announces that he's a good singer as he goes into his best rendition of a Smashmouth song. It's a lot easier to have deep abstract discussions with a high school junior, but what if I can be the one to challenge and help that 11 year old begin to question and own his faith, help him to practice using his abstract thinking muscle? I love being a part of that.
-Middle school kids are generally honest. They have no problem telling you things: from the fact that you have a booger in your left nostril, to the fact that they secretly set up a Myspace account but worry about the older guys asking to be their friends. It's like they don't know that they "shouldn't" tell you this stuff. Junior High girls are this way especially...It's like every relationship/friendship they start at this age is intensely intimate. Sure, it may start off talking about how "Jessica" went and told "Emily" the secret she wasn't supposed and how she'll never talk to "Jessica" ever again, but then (if you make the effort) you end up talking about trust and eventually about how their dad left their mom when they were 3 and hasn't looked them up since...and how they have 5 "BFF's" but it's really only "Amber" that they trust. Girls get real, real fast in the right opportunities. Granted this doesn't happen in the 5 minutes before the lesson or the 10 minutes waiting on their ride (although it could.) We gain their trust by showing them that we care about them outside of church, out there in the real world where they have to live out all the things they talked about in small group Wednesday night.
Boys...hmmm...that's a whole other blog post by itself. :) But well worth learning about if you work with middle students.
-Middle School students still think things (and you!) are cool. Most of the time. You can be completely out of style, but if you let them know you think they're cool, you're in for life. They are looking for a more mature person to come beside and walk with them through this roller coaster of hormones, new feelings and experiences. They may joke about you being "old" but they get upset when you don't show up to their basketball game. You may have no idea who Jay-Z (is that how you spell it??) is, but if they know you like Switchfoot and they like Switchfoot, then they'll come up to you first thing that morning after it's release to ask you what you thought about the new CD. They look up to us and EXPECT us to "model" life for them. We actually disappoint and confuse them when they mention something they expect us to call them out on and we let it slide. (showing them grace=loving accountability, not winking at sin) Also, side note...you can play silly games that you secretly think are cool, and they willingly join in. And then beg you to play it again. We have a four square space set up in our "game room" that gets used every Wednesday night. Enough said.
Things break. Often. Middle School ministers have to explain why the bride-room mirror bust during the lock-in. Or why buying a pig snout from the grocery store should come out of the youth ministry budget. Female drama. Boys who don't use deodorant. An hour long trip on a bus where you ride with the windows rolled down the whole time. (you know why.) Middle school ministry is messy. "Beautiful chaos" is usually how I describe Middle School ministry. Middle school ministry is awkward at best, most of the time. But I do awkward well.