There is something inspiring about being with other people who care deeply about the things you care about. In middle school ministry, it can be tough to find those people. Thankfully, the good people over at the Youth Cartel have created an event specifically for that purpose… The Middle School Ministry Campference.

I have gone to the first two years this event has happened, and I can wholeheartedly recommend this experience. The content is designed specifically for middle school youth workers, which is rare at a conference. But my favorite thing about this event is the people who go to it. The event is smaller than most conferences, so you get to know other people in your tribe. Every meal is eaten together so you’re rubbing shoulders with people from all over the nation who have great creative ideas on how to succeed in making middle school disciples.

I will be there this year, and I hope you will be too. It’s sneaking up on us (Oct 11-13), so get registered quickly!

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instagram picOne of the best tools ever created for middle school ministry is Instagram. I realize that apps like Instagram can be cool for a couple years and then be sent off to grandma’s farm in the country where they can run and be free of all pain from their old-ness. But for right now in the present reality of middle school ministry, I believe it is the best app available. If you have even 5 students in your group who have Instagram, you should have an account specifically for your ministry. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Middle schoolers love Instagram. I don’t think I need to explain this one, but with the explosion of the digital age, everything is in picture form. I once heard a youth pastor say that they were trying to be counter-cultural and fight against the popularity of Instagram… To which I replied, “Huh??” This isn’t a sin issue. This is a cultural engagement opportunity. I love posting pictures of our students worshipping or verses we talked about in the sermon or students simply having fun at church. When students are rushing down their photo feed, they are bombarded with negativity and judgmentalism. Then they see that one picture from the middle school ministry, and they are reminded in the middle of the day about who they are. As the church let’s offer redeeming images for students to see and celebrate.
  • Students love to see themselves in pictures. It makes me laugh everytime when we post a picture to our ministry account of nearly 300 students, and that one student will make a point to comment and say, “I see me!” I mean, honestly, we all love to see ourselves… But throw in the insecurities of the middle school age, and they love it even more. It helps give them an objective look at who they are when they’re not talking selfies.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of the screen-shot/re-post. Okay this one is simple. Remember how we used to hand out physical pieces of paper and tell students to invite their friends to an event? Now, it’s as easy as posting a graphic of an upcoming event on Instagram. Tell students – heck, even make them do it in the middle of your program – to “screen-shot” the picture of the event, then re-post it under their own account. In the span of under 5 minutes, your students just invited hundreds of their friends to your event… And more importantly, they didn’t leave any of those paper fliers crumpled up in the hallway that you’ll have to clean up later. We just did this with our big outreach event called the BASH, and over 500 students came. (We had 400 last year when we didn’t use Instagram… 25% growth is a big deal, people!)
  • Building the hype & anticipation before an event is just as important as the execution of the event. I borrowed this idea from Michael Hyatt in his book “Platform.” Instagram allows you to take sneak-peek pictures (or videos!) of something from your programming hours or even days ahead. When you do that, you begin the epic experience for the student in advance. By the time they arrive at church, they are already sold on whatever you have planned. Last year I posted a picture of Honey Boo Boo on our Instagram account and said, “What does Honey Boo Boo have to do with LIFT tomorrow? You’ll have to be here to find out.” (It was for a silly game we played). One of our students got so excited about it that he brought two friends with him. They told me that they had always thought church was just boring. Hmm…
  • It creates memories. We don’t allow our middle schoolers to bring their phones or iPods to overnight trips. But we unleash our leaders to take plenty of Instagram pictures. I love the 5 hours immediately following the end of our event when our middle schoolers rush to Instagram to like and comment on every picture we took. Many of them re-post those pictures to tell their friends about their experience as well. Creating memories is a vital piece of faith formation. Instagram just helps out a bit. (Side note: When we take pictures at overnight trips and post them to Instagram, this also creates a great opportunity for parents to feel involved and informed about what’s happening. The introduction of Instagram Video was a huge win with our parents as they got to see their kids worshipping!)

I could go on and on about the reasons I believe Instagram is a vital app for all middle school ministries. But I’ve decided to make this a multiple-part post. Stay tuned for more thoughts later this week. In the mean-time, what did I miss? Why else should a middle school youth worker use Instagram?

P.S. Want to see more ways that I use Instagram for our middle school ministry? Check out http://instagram.com/LIFTHR.

This year we wanted to introduce some of our middle school ministry staff to the students in a fun, unique way. So we took the #Vadering fad and put a little twist on it. (If you don’t know what it is, look it up on Instagram/Twitter. Students love it.) The students got a huge kick out of this video. After we showed it, we had the whole room (300+ people) Vader each other (Vaders on the left, victims on the right) and took a picture. It was an epic middle school moment. My favorite days in middle school ministry are when I can somehow sneak Star Wars into my job.

P.S. My favorite part of the video is the surprise cameo appearance by our senior pastor, Jon Weece, at the very end. I love serving at a large church where the head guy isn’t afraid to get silly for the middle schoolers!

In the past twelve months I have had a growing sense that I have not made the school system as big of a priority as it needs to be in middle school ministry. I think the schools are where the biggest battles for our student’s souls are being won and lost. And I’ve always valued the school system and have had incredible respect for teachers, whom I believe are the most under-appreciated people in America. But my admiration never made it farther than a few visits to school Bible studies and FCA programs.

School Rep Meeting

Well, I’ve been following Jesus long enough to know when a “growing sense” is actually a conviction from the Holy Spirit. So I’ve decided to change my lack of action this school year. I’ve always wanted to have a quality middle school student leadership program, but I could never nail down enough responsibility to warrant an actual team. But I may (or may not… we will see in time) have found a solution: School Reps.
School Rep in our LIFT Middle School Ministry is a student who is growing spiritually and knows that God has called them to take big steps towards leadership. This is a student who is not satisfied with the status quo at their school or the media culture that is being shoved on them, along with its flawed worldview. This student genuinely wants the people in their school to know and love Jesus. Simply put, our School Reps are our Outwardly-Focused Student Leadership Team.

Instead of having the student leaders focus internally at our isolated programming, we are challenging and equipping these students to own their school campus and do everything in their power to make Jesus famous. Of course they will lead in our actual program, and they will have specific tasks to accomplish at LIFT. But it can’t stop there. If a student thinks he or she is only a “leader” when they’re at church, we’re not thinking with a Kingdom mindset. We would be stuck in a youth-ministry-subculture mindset. And maybe that’s why so many of our students graduate from their faith when they graduate high school…

We put together an official job description for these School Reps, so they would know what they’re getting themselves into. Here’s a partial list of that document:

You will be responsible for:

  • Participating in a once-per-month School Rep meeting with the student ministries staff and all other School Reps

  • Creating and owning a mission statement for mobilizing the body of Christ at your school

  • Setting 5 goals for the year as a school team and following through on those goals

  • Praying consistently for your school

  • Communicating with your School Rep team and the student ministry staff about school activities, important games, concerts, tragedies, and unique needs of the school that we could meet

  • Taking initiative to make a difference for Christ in your school

    • Possible initiatives may be:

      • Making breakfast for the teachers

      • Creating Bible studies that meet at school

      • Putting together care packages for students who go through tragedies

      • Write letters of encouragement to the administration

      • Donut Day for Freshmen/6th Graders

  • Help support existing Christian groups in your schools (FCA, Bible Study, etc.)

  • Being a good representation of Christ in the way that you act/lead at your schools.

    • Always looking for new opportunities to love like Jesus at your school!

  • Being a Christ-centered Student Leader at LIFT every week!

School Reps

So here we are embarking in unchartered territory. I know this isn’t a brand-new idea. (Are there any new ideas in student ministry anymore?) But I have a holy expectation for this group of students. We had 21 students apply (Yes, they had to apply… Gives them more ownership!) and come to the first vision-casting meeting. They represent every Lexington and Nicholasville-area middle school. Our next goal is to make sure we have at least two reps for each school, so nobody is jumping into this school ministry alone.

What’s going to happen? I have no idea. But I do know this was a God-initiated idea, so I’m hoping and resting in his guidance. It’s time for our students to own their school as their mission field!

 

Ignite-The-Bible-for-Teens-SquareIt doesn’t take long to open the new Ignite Bible for teens and realize that it’s going to be a perfect fit for middle schoolers. And when I say it doesn’t take long, I mean the first page. Open the cover of this new Bible and there is a list of every book in the Bible in alphabetical order with page numbers next to them. If you’ve ever taught a group of middle schoolers, you know how long it takes the students to find the text you’re studying. I mean, let’s face it… Who hasn’t awkwardly stalled with extra information about the text after telling students to turn to 1 Timothy? Hmm? Needless to say, my first impression of this new resource was good. It made me say to myself, “Great. They understand middle schoolers.”

My first impression turned out to be right. This Bible, edited together by Mark Oestreicher and a team of middle school ministry-minded people, is a great asset for anyone who is doing ministry with early adolescents. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in situations where parents or students have asked for recommendations of study Bibles that would be good for middle schoolers. Typically I’ve gone with the LIVE Bible or the newer Guys Life Application Study Bible from Tyndale. But I’ll now be able to add the Ignite Bible to that list.

Here are a few things I specifically like about the Ignite Bible:

  • Topical Index at the Front. In the very beginning there is an extensive topical index with topics like “Self-Harm” and “Anxiety” and others that are perfect for middle schoolers. I’ve seen this in many Bibles, but it’s clear they put this list together with young teens in mind. They also don’t point to just Bible verses, but also to “Flashpoints,” which are brief explanations hidden on the pages of how a certain verse connects with a topic.
  • Sparks. The Sparks are areas within the Bible that are highlighted with God’s promises for us. So in Philippians 4, there is an orange box with Philippians 4:6 written in it. I’m always trying to get students to memorize Scripture. This is an easy way to get students to memorize great verses.
  • Graphic Design. There is nothing cheesy about the way this Bible looks. I see a lot of students still walking around with their “Children’s Bible,” and (understandably) they’re ashamed of bringing it to our program because it looks kid-ish. Well, they won’t be ashamed to walk around with this. I mean, come on, there’s fire all over it. That’s a middle school guy’s dream, isn’t it?! All joking aside, I appreciate when publishers put time into graphic design, because a lot of books miss their audience with cheesy Christian-ese covers.

Of course, no study Bible is going to be perfect. There were a couple things I was concerned about when I saw the Bible. First of all, it’s New King James Version. Living in Kentucky, I have experienced a few too many interactions from old-school Christians who say King James is the only way to go. So admittedly I think I was a little biased against it. But after reading the NKJV, I realized it is very different from the KJV. I think it’s written in language very familiar to middle schoolers. So after closer look, I don’t think it’s an issue at all.

My other minor concern was the size of the Bible. I am always trying to get my students to bring their Bibles to our programming and Life Groups. Sometimes I think the bulkier the Bible, the less likely they are to bring it to church. I may be a little nit-picky here, but I think it’s great when students have a small softcover Bible that they can take with them to church, school, trips, etc. Again, this is a minor concern… There’s nothing wrong with having two Bibles – one for study at home and one for bringing to church.

All in all, I can wholeheartedly put my recommendation behind this Bible. I love when editors and writers can pick a specific niche and stick with it. They really did it for young teens with the Ignite Bible.  Check it out here!

junior_high_ministry_logoHey everyone! I know I have been severely slacking on this blog lately, but I promise I haven’t stopped writing. One of my dreams is to someday write a book, and I’d love to write specifically on the topic of middle school ministry. A few months ago a fellow middle school ministry champion, Terry Goodwin, came to me asking if I’d be willing to write a 4-week teaching series for his website/publishing company juniorhighministry.org. Of course I said yes and started dreaming of what that would look like. Well, it’s exciting for me to announce that it was officially published this week and is available for purchase at http://juniorhighministry.org/road-trip-series/.

RoadTripSliderI really loved writing this particular series. Basically I wrote it as if you were looking at Jesus’ life on earth as a roadtrip. Every roadtrip has bumps and bruises, but also a lot of fun. It was a blast to come up with some creative object lessons and other activities to flow with the “roadtrip” theme. Each week focuses on a different part of Jesus’ life as explored in the book of Mark. I really believe middle schoolers will love it, as they did here at Southland already! If you decide to use it for your middle school ministry, please let me know how it goes! I’d love to get some feedback!

In January we did a teaching series on identity called “I Am.” For the 3rd week of the series, we talked about how being a follower of Christ means you are changed and different than the culture around you. To make the point a little more relevant, we did a teaching video of me speaking from a local middle school here in Lexington. We know that schools are where a lot of identity decisions are made, so we wanted students to connect the idea of being changed to their local school. Here is that teaching video: