Why Middle School?

Posted: August 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

I get this question all the time: “Why middle school?” Usually the person has some kind of smirk to indicate that underneath they’re really thinking, “Why in the world would someone like you willingly engage the craziest, most unpredictable, and often worst-smelling age group out of all the other congenial, predictable, and un-problematic age groups?” And honestly, I don’t blame them for asking, either. That is, I don’t blame them if they’ve never had the privilege of working with this beautiful demographic.

There was a point in my life that I would have laughed in your face if you told me that I would be ministering full-time with 11-14 year olds. But now I would probably laugh if you told me I should move on to a different age. Why? Because I have learned that the middle school age is one of the best opportunities to reach a person for Christ. Ever since that first night my freshman year of college when I volunteered to help out in the middle school ministry in Indiana, I have seen the power of investment in students. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into that night, but one small group session with the 8th grade guys, and I was sold on this ministry. I could never see myself anywhere else. Middle school ministry is my passion and calling.

Let’s get into some specifics of why I love this age group and why the church must invest in this group as well. The age range of 11-14 is the second most pivotal developmental stage in a person’s life, second only to the age range of 0-2. Psychologist Erik Erikson writes that in adolescence, “The individual begins to see himself as having a past and a future that are exclusively his. Early adolescence is thus a pivotal time of review and anticipation” (qtd. in W. Rice 20). One way to understand the life cycles of belief and value development is demonstrated in Figure 1:

Cycle One

Cycle Two

Age 0-4          Discovery                               Age 12-14          Discovery
Age 5-8          Testing Out Age 15-17          Testing Out
Age 9-12        Concluding Age 18+              Concluding
Figure 1 (adapted from W. Rice, Junior High Ministry 23)

Just as childhood comes to a close and conclusions have been made about beliefs and values, new discovery is taking place. The middle schooler is learning that he or she is a unique person whose faith is not determined simply by his or her upbringing, but by his or her own personal assent, that is, the student’s new abstract intellectual abilities, and autonomous decision-making as well. Parents and youth workers within the church must come alongside early adolescents and help normalize their experience with the stability that comes from the never-changing love of Jesus Christ.

Additionally, statistics show that 86% of Christians committed their lives to Christ before the age of 15 (International Bulletin of Ministry Research). Now, does this necessarily mean it’ll happen in middle school? No, of course not. Children’s ministry is equally vital to the faith development of our students. But as new discovery takes place as puberty hits, middle schoolers make decisions that will govern the rest of their lives. Because of this opportunity, parents and the church must partner together to teach the gospel to early adolescents to combat the competing secular worldviews.

There is so much more to it too! But that will have to wait for another blog post. My purpose in creating this blog is two-fold:

  1.  To generate discussion between parents and middle school youth workers about how to most effectively reach our middle school students and
  2. To provide easily accessible resources to understand early adolescent development.

Often youth ministry is only talked about between youth pastors and volunteers, and parents are hardly involved. But our kids have been entrusted first to the ministry of the parents, and then to our middle school ministries. The church and parents must join together in the conversation to increase our effectiveness at drawing students to the foot of the cross, the ultimate purpose behind what we do. Also, there is a plethora of research that has been conducted on the 11-14 age group. The problem is that not many people have dedicated extra time to find and read these resources. My goal is to take these resources and to condense them into easily-readable and understandable blog posts that will help both the middle school youth worker and the parent. It’s only in understanding adolescent development that we begin to understand our audience – the number one rule in public speaking.

I’m very excited about this blog, and I want to encourage a lot of discussion! Let iron sharpen iron as we reach our students for Christ!

  1. Jeff says:

    Love that you’ve commited to put your passion to work influencing the next generation for Jesus! Middle school ministry is huge! With you in the journey… -Jeff

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