Archive for the ‘needs’ Category

For those of you who missed my most recent blog post, I reflected on what it felt like to be in transition. My wife and I have been in full-fledged transition for what feels like the past 12 months. In fact, when I look back at our lives one year ago today, it almost makes me chuckle at how different our lives are now. New state, new job for me, new job for her, new friends (though we haven’t let go of the “old” friends, so don’t worry), new lives together. While it is all very exciting, transition is never the easiest thing to process.

And, as I mentioned in the last blog, this has everything to do with the lives of middle schoolers too. Everything about their stage of life is transition. Transition to high-pitched voice to bass-toned voice. Transition from 4’0″ tall to 6’0″ tall. Transition from kid to teenager (or adult). “Changes” is the name of the game.

As we experienced our own transition, I tried to take note of the things that people did that made the transition easier or even more fun. With the hopes of understanding some new ways that I can help middle schoolers in the same way, I tried to record my own emotions and responses (as well as my wife’s) to the people who went out of their way to minister to us in this transition. Here are a few quick things that made our experience better:

  1. Invitation. Whether it was the people back in Colorado who invited us to a special dinner to celebrate with us before we left, or the people here in Lexington who invited us to simple things like watching NCAA basketball with them on the day we arrived, the invitations always made us feel incredibly loved. At some points we almost had more invitations than we could handle, and that’s a good problem. It’s hard going to a new place and wanting to get to know the culture and people without being too presumptuous. When people extended invitations to me and Nicole, the transition felt like normal life to us. And wasn’t Jesus a master of invitation too? He knew the effect it had on people. An invitation is a beautiful request to share lives. When was the last time you invited a middle schooler to share some aspect of your life?
  2. Intentionality. I have to admit that I’ve been a little jealous of my wife since we’ve been here. So many women have been intentional with asking her out to coffee, grabbing a bite to eat, or even joining a Bible study. I don’t know if there’s a special personality trait that all of these women share, but it’s as if they knew coming to a new state would be difficult for us. Nicole would leave for hours at a time, sharing lunch or coffee with lots of different women who had been intentional with her. Are we that intentional when middle schoolers are going through transition? Perhaps a better word here would be empathy. Do we empathize with middle schoolers as they go through so much change?
  3. Grace. If you got a hold of a transcript of my conversations over the past few months, I’m almost positive one of the most-repeated words of mine would be “sorry.” I find myself apologizing a lot for not knowing little things like how the copier works, or who to talk to about ministry event details, or other things of that nature. Thankfully I work with an awesome group of people who have shown so much grace to me, knowing that it would be a steep learning curve. (I am especially thankful of our administrative assistant Mallory, because I honestly don’t know if I could have survived without her constant grace and help.) Obviously grace is sort of a big thing for Jesus. Jesus was and is the master of grace. In light of this, do we show enough grace to middle schoolers who are in transition? When they start acting up during worship, do we just get upset and discipline? Or do we stop to think about where they’re coming from? This is a big one that I’m still learning, and one that probably needs its own blog post.

I am trying to learn not just from the example of people who made this transition a better experience for me and my wife, but also from the one, Jesus, who really exemplified these traits.

How might your own middle school ministry change if you started being more invitational, intentional, and gracious? If you are a parent, how might your relationship with your child be affected if you employed more invitations, intentionality, and grace in your family?



Posted: February 13, 2011 in needs, physical development

I want you to think about the most awkward feeling you had in middle school. Go ahead. Think back. Don’t keep reading this until you have an awkward feeling in mind. Got it? Okay.

Did you feel alone in that moment or experience? I definitely did.

When I was in middle school, I felt that puberty was my arch-nemesis. It was my Lex Luther, my Doctor Octopus, my greatest foe that always showed up when I least wanted it to. (For those of you who didn’t catch those references, I was referring to Superman’s and Spiderman’s greatest enemies. This whole thinking-back-to-my-middle-school-years thing got me thinking about the superheroes of my childhood!).

I hated puberty. It was awkward and always left me feeling like I was the only one in the room going through it. I remember sitting in English class after lunch in 7th grade wondering if I was some anomaly of a human being who was being forced to change physically while everyone else grew normally. And, of course, there wasn’t a chance that I’d talk to anyone about it, because that would only lead to more awkwardness and the inescapable feeling that I was different from every other kid my age.

My response may sound over-the-top, but I don’t think my experience in middle school was unique. Puberty brings on this sense that “I am not normal” and increases the insecurities that already define the middle school years. I believe every student at some point wonders if anyone else feels the way that they do.

In our churches we talk about “wholistic ministry” with a general understanding that in order to love another human being we should care about more than just their spiritual state; we should care about their physical state as well. In the past 10 years we have had this incredible push in our churches towards pursuing justice for the poor that has resulted in an awakening for many nominal Christians. We are seeing that we can’t just preach at the homeless on the street; on the contrary, we’ve seen that to “be Jesus” to them, we need to care for their physical needs like providing them food, helping them get job training and housing, etc. I got the privilege in the summer of 2009 to do exactly this in Los Angeles with a homeless ministry out there. We understood that “to love your neighbor as yourself,” you must care for them in the SAME ways you’d care for yourself. I loved the focus on wholistic ministry.

Is there not an opportunity for wholistic ministry with our well-fed, financially healthy (i.e. dependent) middle school students as well? We look at our 11-14 year olds in the church and seem to care only about their spiritual state. Of course the church exists to care about their spiritual life, but why do we stop there?

I strongly believe that the middle school parallel of providing food for the hungry is helping them understand that the changes they’re going through are normal and part of God’s perfect plan for their bodies. We need to normalize their experience and help them understand that God’s way of loving them in their middle school years is to develop their bodies in unique ways.

Because we can’t see middle schooler’s emotions on their shoulders, we don’t often acknowledge them in the way we could acknowledge someone’s physical hunger. But the inner pain and insecurity within a student’s heart in middle school is enough to determine the direction of the rest of their life. If we don’t help them see the normalcy of their experience and see God’s hand upon their life, they may go through life wondering if God is a personal God and if He really cares about their daily life.

It is my opinion that in order to “love (your middle schooler) as yourself,” you must take the opportunity to affirm the way that God is growing their body. Sure, there is plenty of opportunity for awkwardness. But imagine the awkwardness that could result if you don’t say anything. This past January we did a teaching series in our middle school ministry called “Changes.” My whole focus was helping them understand that changes are inevitable in life, good or bad, but God’s hand is always upon us as we change. Change is essential for growth and maturity, and that’s a fact for our spirituality AND our physical body.

Do you think it’s important to talk to middle schoolers about the physical changes they’re experiencing? What does wholistic ministry with 11-14 year olds look like? What advice would you give other parents or youth workers when addressing this topic?

Understanding a Child’s Needs: Part 2

Posted: October 27, 2010 in needs

We’ve all seen it. Mom is in the line at the grocery store with her kid at her side. The kid sees a glorious, shining bag of M&M’s on the shelf and immediately grabs it in hopes of a delicious pre-dinner snack. Mom denies him of his deepest desire at that moment and ignites a series of cries, rants, speeches about unfairness, etc. The child does everything he can to control the outcome of the situation, but to no avail. The M&M’s remain in their proper place on the shelf.

Two weeks ago we talked about understanding the needs of a child. There are five general needs every child has: structure, nurture, challenge, engagement, and playfulness. But no matter how great of a parent or youth worker you are, there will always be a need or two that go unmet. When a need goes unmet, fear begins to creep in, and the child employs control strategies to compensate. It’s not too much unlike the situation in the grocery store. Although the child didn’t need the M&M’s, he felt that he needed them, and when he couldn’t have them, he employed his own control strategies to compensate.

This obviously affects the middle school student frequently as changes in his or her body start to create conflict with his or her environment. Many parents and youth workers don’t know how to meet the unique needs of a 6th-8th grade student, and as a result, those students try to control their environment with one of these strategies to reduce their fear and anxiety.

As presented by Kevin Rohrer, here are the four control strategies a child could employ when a need goes unmet:

First, there is aggressive control. One word to describe this strategy is fight. The kid will try to create predictable outcomes by leading his own life instead of the parents leading. This could result in temper tantrums or outbursts after being told “no.” Kevin noted that these kids could struggle to make or keep friends because he or she is too bossy.

Second, there is withdrawn control. One word to describe this strategy is flight. With this strategy, the child “attempts to reduce fear/anxiety by refusing to engage in anything he/she cannot predict an outcome for.” This child might avoid unknown situations, taking healthy risks, affection, and attempts to make friends. She might spend too much time alone as well.

Third, there is perfectionist control. One word to describe this strategy is performance. A child who employs this strategy will try to make things perfect or “just right.” Kevin said, “The child may experience extreme reactions to the failures, mistakes, accidents, and disappointments of self and/or others,” and they may struggle with lying.

Fourth, there is attention-needy control. One word to describe this strategy is approval. The child will attempt to control how others relate to him or her. This could be the “class clown” or the one who struggles with really clingy or needy behavior.

What control strategy did you use the most as a child? There might still be glimpses of it in your life now. The reason I ask this is because you can better understand your child or the students with whom you have relationship because of similar responses. I can look back and see very clearly that I employed the perfectionist control strategy throughout my teenage years. I wanted to make sure that nobody was disappointed in me, so I tried my hardest in every arena of life – academics, sports, music, etc. But when I fell short of being perfect, I’d try to fake it so people would still like me. This is hard to admit, but it’s important to understand so I can more effectively recognize these control strategies in my students.

The important thing to remember here is that there is GRACE for youth workers, parents, and students alike. We may guilt ourselves into thinking we’re terrible leaders because we see a control strategy being employed by our students as a result of their needs going unmet. But please remember, there are NO perfect parents or youth workers. There will be needs that go unmet. Read the entire Bible and you’ll see example after example of children whose needs go unmet by their parents all the time. Think of Joseph and the abandonment he must have felt after being sold into slavery by his brothers. Think of Absalom and the aggressive control he employed when some kind of needs when unmet by his father David.

The key here is understanding what those control strategies are, and when we see them, figuring out what need might be going unmet. The only way this will be possible is if adults engage in relationship with the child and know them deeply. This is why our middle school ministry will never be an entertainment-focused program that is all about the big show every week. I’d rather focus on the relationships between students and leaders so that our kids can be known and loved.

 Have you seen any control strategies being employed by the teenagers in your influence? How have you handled them?

Understanding a Child’s Needs

Posted: October 11, 2010 in needs

This past week I was fortunate to spend a much-needed vacation away from Colorado. Though it pains me to tell you that I spent my vacation in Indiana of all places, I have returned rested and refreshed. The reason – the only reason – I spent my vacation in Indiana is because of the close friendships and relationships I have there. When all was said and done, it was always about the people. The love and friendship I experienced in Indiana was a good reminder of the unique needs I have in my life.

We all have certain needs in our lives. You and I can probably articulate the needs we have more than a middle school student can. Some of those needs can be filled by anybody; some can only be filled by loved ones. There are surface-level needs – which may more aptly be called “desires” – like a middle school kid wanting affirmation for his clothing style, which he will look for from his peers. But then there are the deep-seated needs which only parents and trusted adults can meet.

On October 2 we had something called the “Faith Steps Summit” at Vanguard Church for our Grove Family Ministry. It was a focus group designed to create an environment where parents and ministry leaders could come together and discuss the topic of “Relationship Parenting.” After worshiping together, our guest speaker Kevin Rohrer from Shield of Refuge Counseling presented a talk on this topic before we all separated into age-specific breakout sessions to discuss the implications of his content for our kids.

Today I’d like to review one particular part of his presentation that focused on understanding every child’s needs. I think this is so important for us to understand as youth workers and as parents that I wanted to dedicate this week’s blog to this particular topic. Kevin articulated 5 specific needs that every child has. (I contribute all of the following content to his presentation. Further questions can be directed to him at

First, there is STRUCTURE. When a child’s need for structure is achieved, the child feels, “I am safe.” The child knows that she can trust her parents and they are able to take care of her. The parent leads, and the child follows. Structure includes the expectations and the rules that parents set in order to protect/teach the child about life.

Second, there is NURTURE. When a child’s need for nurture is achieved, the child feels, “I am lovable.” Kevin noted, “The parent is to provide healthy love, affection, and touch in order to teach the child his/her significance.” Another interesting point is that eye contact increases emotionality. When a parent makes consistent eye contact with the child, love is communicated.

Third, there is CHALLENGE. When a child’s need for challenge is achieved, the child feels, “I am capable.” Kevin noted, “The parent is to provide opportunities that encourage the child to stretch out and overcome our expectations of them.” In other words, give them chances to explore their capabilities and find out that they are skilled and gifted. The parents should show the student that they believe in their child!

Fourth, there is ENGAGEMENT. When a child’s need for engagement is achieved, the child feels, “I am significant.” When there is engagement, the parent pursues a relationship with the child and communicates that the child is interesting and fun to be with. I like to think of this in terms of how God engaged us. He sent His Son to be with us and suffer with us instead of staying removed from us outside of daily life. He gave us His presence as He engaged us.

Fifth, there is PLAYFULNESS. When a child’s need for playfulness is achieved, the child feels, “I am delighted in.” This obviously looks different for every age group, but even adults need to play every once in a while. A parent should provide chances for the child to play and for the parent to join in.

As I listened to Kevin present on the five needs of a child, I reflected on how all of these elements looked like in my life as I grew up. Where was there structure in my life? How was I nurtured? When was I challenged? Did I feel engaged? Was there playfulness? I want to issue you the same challenge. Wrestle through what these five elements looked like in your life. There is no perfect parent or perfect family, so there will always be one or two that are not as prominent as the others. And my guess is that you either neglect the same area or over-compensate in that area because you didn’t have it.

If you’re a youth pastor, leader, or volunteer, think about the students with whom you have relationships. Think about their home life. You might be able to guess what needs aren’t being met based on how they react in group settings. You’ll never be able to play the role of parent in your student’s life, but you can make huge steps towards becoming that trusted adult they need in their life if they don’t have it. In any case, try to partner with parents and communicate with them about their child. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt more capable of ministering to a student after great conversations with their parents. They have a much better glimpse into the student’s life than we ever could.

My biggest hope is that the church and the family don’t work separately to love their students into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are much better in partnership than as lone rangers. Let’s open the communication lines and introduce them to the Savior, the Father who will meet every need they have!

 Next week I’ll continue debriefing Kevin’s presentation with “Control Strategies” that kids will employ when needs aren’t being met.