Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What I'll Miss About Junior High Ministry

Tonight will be my final night of formally leading our junior high ministry. That's a strange thing to write. I've been doing junior high ministry since my first internship--at the ripe old age of 19!--in May of 2004. The transition to becoming the new high school pastor at my church has been long and coming. Now it's here, and I'm all sorts of nostalgic.

While my title and role is changing, I've not abandoned my passion for early adolescent ministry. Regardless of what you call it, I'm convinced that ministry for young teens is absolutely critical for the church, that the spiritual formation of these young disciples is vital to a community. There will be a lot of aspects I miss about junior high ministry; here are a few key ones that come to mind:

The silliness. Junior highers like to have fun. They're old enough to have serious conversations about life and spirituality, but young enough to still laugh at poop jokes and be willing to chase each other through church hallways while throwing water balloons and/or dodgeballs (not that this latter activity has ever happened at my case my boss is reading this). Young teens are some of the funniest and most enjoyable people you will ever meet, and laughter is a common element in every gathering. This isn't to say that high school isn't silly, but that I think junior highers more readily embrace their silliness than high school students. (Note: I think college ministry can be just as silly as junior high, if not more so...but that's for another post).

The foundation-building. The junior high years are so important when it comes to identity formation and spiritual awakening. If one's spiritual identity is a building, the early teen years are like laying the concrete foundation. High school ministry is putting up the framework of the structure, and college tends to be when the structure is either completely destroyed then rebuilt, or the final beautiful touches and aesthetics are completed. Without a solid foundation, the rest could all fall apart. This means that much of the fruit of junior high ministry is only seen years later, when the identity structure is challenged and we see whether the foundation holds.

The authenticity. Another less-positive phrase for this is "lack of social propriety." Junior highers are brutally honest. Whether it's a frank appraisal of your new haircut or the tearful revelation that their parents are getting a divorce, junior highers tend to be willing to share their hearts in very deep ways. Of course, this happens at all stages in life, but there is something special in early adolescence. Combining the onset of abstract thinking with the lack of too many culture influences of what is "cool" or not, junior highers seem willing to be more open. Whether in summer camp cabin times or small group settings or brief talks after a youth gathering, this has been my experience. I love their willingness to say what's on their mind, regardless of social conventions or faux pas. This is why junior highers tend to ask the best spiritual questions--they're genuinely curious, and haven't been socially programmed to believe that it's not cool to doubt or question or get frustrated with God.

The "aha" moments. When junior highers use abstract thinking for the first time, suddenly realizing something about themselves or God in a lightbulb moment, it always brings a smile to my face. I know that we all have "aha" moments throughout our lives, but they seem especially prevalent in the junior high years. Simple truths that I take for granted become all the more beautiful when I am with a junior higher who suddenly "gets it." "God...loves me? Like, really loves me? Me?" Yes, he really does.

More than anything, I just love the students. I'm grateful that this transition means I'll get to simply "move up" with them into high school. I'm not actually leaving them, I'm sticking with them for the long haul.

What do you love about junior high ministry? Share it in the comments!

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