Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From Junior High to High School: Three Month Reflection

I love junior high ministry. It's what I've been doing since 2004. So the last three months of being a high school pastor have been both stretching and rewarding as I reevaluate what my vocation truly is and where God has me. Here are some of the jumbled thoughts and musings I've been pondering as I hit the three-month mark of high school ministry.

It's not a stepping stone or a promotion. Junior high ministry is just as valuable as high school ministry--they are ministry equals. While many people have congratulated me on my promotion, I never viewed this job change as somehow "moving up" in the ranks of church ministry and have openly corrected the perception. I believe these ministries go hand in hand and complement each other and count it a privilege to serve in both.

Of course, "equal" doesn't mean "same." The two ministries are remarkably different for being so closely related. Perhaps a metaphor would be useful. Imagine that adolescent spirituality is like building a house. It's spiritual construction work.

Junior high ministry is building the foundation.  You dig spiritual holes, mix spiritual concrete, repeating the process over and over. The basic components of faith--the Gospel, prayer, Scripture, serving and loving others, community, etc.--are all mixed in that spiritual concrete mixer and spread over the hearts and minds of junior highers. It can be messy and tedious work with few visual results; you've got a big solid foundation, but nothing is on it yet. It's hard to imagine what the final product will even look like. Yet the foundation is so incredibly important for the building to stay standing and endure, as Jesus once noted.

High school ministry is framing the house. Things are moving and happening. You can see where this house is heading, and there's a sense of excitement about the walls going up. You need significantly different tools here; where concrete mixers and shovels for digging were helpful in junior high, now it's all wood and nails. Yet it's also a bit more dangerous and topple-ready as the walls grow higher. There is spiritual fruit built upon that earlier foundation, in some ways actually testing the staying power of the foundation. I've had so many conversations with students in high school ministry that stem from earlier moments in junior high. It's not that high school ministry can't happen without junior high ministry, but it's incredibly beneficial to have both be healthy, and I've noticed a difference when students have a great spiritual foundation built from junior high.

Side Note: Ministry to college-age and young adults is either when the home gets the finishing touches and becomes beautifully complete, or we start all over again because we realize that the original foundation was poorly constructed.

Perhaps the greatest difference is the expectation level. The high school students are expected to act more grown up and mature, and they typically rise to that expectation. It was fascinating to see students who only weeks earlier in junior high were off-the-wall goofballs with a penchant for distraction transform into goofballs who now want to open their Bibles and serve people and talk about spiritual things. The incoming junior highers are realizing that the expectation is different; it's a healthy peer pressure to be engaged and focus. Those who aren't rising to the high school expectations really seem out of place and strikingly more immature than they did only a few months ago.

What hasn't changed is the love. I really love the students and volunteers and parents. I am trying to communicate that fact often. It's a beautiful privilege to walk with these same students through junior high and high school, to disciple them for 6+ years instead of only two or three, to see them mature into Godly women and men. I love this job. I love the bride of Christ. It's an honor, and I can't wait to see what God does in this next season.

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