There are three things that I have found to be true in my life. And surprisingly, I have found that these three things turned out to be in conflict. They are:
1) I love Jesus 2) I love learning 3) I love middle schoolers
On the surface, these three things are every youth worker's bread and butter. It is these three foundational values that have launched us into this unique vocation. But what I have been wrestling with is that the combination of these three values have almost closed the door on good, long term vocational ministry.
I LOVE JESUS: It is hard to believe, but I am rounding the corner on 40. For the past 20 years I have had a growing and thriving relationship with Jesus. I look back on my old journals and last at how impatient and immature I have been in different seasons of my spiritual life. I see how my prayers and my prayer life has fundamentally changed, and how much more settled I am in my identity as a child of God. I love Jesus and I have been and am continually being transformed into His likeness. How cool, that Jesus is never done with us and is so patient with us as we slowly experience the fullness of our salvation.
I LOVE LEARNING: As I reflect back on my life I see how I have always loved solving problems. It seems to me that one of the best ways to solve any problem is by collecting enough data. The more data the more the problem and solution become clear. In my younger days as a Christian and as a youth worker, the nut I was trying to crack was my theological worldview. As I settled on a systematic theology that worked for me, I began to solve the next problem and implementing that theology into my student ministry. I love the Word of God and I so badly want my students to develop a love for God's word as well. And with these passions I spent hours and hours working out curriculum and lessons that would help the scriptures to come alive so my students could love Jesus!
I LOVE MIDDLE SCHOOLERS: There is something totally amazing about the unique season of life 11-14 year olds find themselves. I don't think there is a three year chunk in life except birth - three where there is so much change and development. Because of that we get the perks of playing and goofing off with kids, while leaning into their budding adulthood as we wrestle with larger issues of life and theology! Middle school ministry is the best!!
While all three of these loves are true and noble, what I have found is that they can be in conflict. You see, you and I are adults. And as adults we must lean all of who we are into the pursuit of Jesus. We must love Him, run after him, try out and try on different ways to connect with Him. We must be life long learners in our spiritual, biblical, and vocational understandings. What worked last year doesn't work this year, or won't work in a couple of years. We are always in transition! And loving Jesus and a passion to learn allow us to stay in the game for a long, long time!
OUR LOVE FOR MIDDLE SCHOOLERS MUST SHAPE HOW WE DO MINISTRY MORE THAN OUR LOVE FOR JESUS AND LOVE FOR LEARNING:
I know this is a bold statement, but think about it for a while. It is our love for middle schoolers that has made our vocational calling unique. We could love Jesus and learning in any context. But it is our love for middle schoolers that shapes who we are and what we do. And if we are going to do a good job vocationally we must differentiate ourselves from the students we work with.
We must continue to grow in our faith and in our understanding. This is good and noble. AND we must must realize that we are working with a totally unique demographic.
Think about it; Everything about Jesus is abstract. EVERYTHING! Middle schoolers are just at the very beginning of understanding abstract concepts. This means that what we teach and how we teach must be done in a way that is relevant and applicable to them and their life stage, not you and your life stage.
It is always easier to take our passions for ministry and our growing edge in faith and then teach about that. But if you do this, you will always be 10 miles over their head. (At least I hope so.) What a 20 or 30 something is learning better be totally different and irrelevant to what a 12 year old is learning.
If you love Jesus and love learning, then my prayer for you is that you would harness these loves in a way that allows you to share the good news of grace and mercy in a way that middle schoolers can actually digest and understand. Being part child and part adult is difficult for us as youth workers, but it is even more difficult for them who have to live through it.
May we embrace our unique passion and calling to love middle schoolers by differentiating ourselves so that we can communicate our love for Jesus and learning and them in a way that actually makes sense to them.
This post was recently featured at middleschoolministry.com