Here are some questions I was recently asked about the world of middle school ministry. Here is how I answered these questions. I would love to know your thoughts, pushbacks, snaps. Let’s keep pouring unconditional love on these middle schoolers so that the experience of God’s people match the theology we are trying to communicate!
How would you say Junior High students define salvation?
For those who have grown up around the church, they would say that salvation means that God died for their sins and because of that they can go to heaven. For those outside the church, I don’t think they have any mental parameters for salvation. It doesn’t make sense and answers no felt needs. They get that God loves them and that they are special.
How would you define salvation?
Salvation is the total redemption of those who were lost, isolated, and alone by their own choices and the choices of those around them. While we were yet sinners, Christ came, lived, taught, died and rose again so that we may have our sins atoned for, our debt ransomed and then have the gift of being adopted into the family of God as full blown daughters and sons, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with that high honor.
What part of the story of Christ most resonates with Junior High students?
That they are loved and that God has a plan for them. That they are invited into a family that is defined by unconditional love.
What part of the metanarrative of creation most resonates with Junior High students?
The world is beautiful yet fallen. There are high hopes for themselves and the world around them, and are just now starting to get crushed and experience the fruit of brokenness and rebellion.
How would a churched Junior High student define “sin”?
Doing something bad.
How would an unchurched Junior High student define “sin”?
Doing something bad.
How would a churched Junior High student define “truth”?
The right answer. (to me)
How would an unchurched Junior High student define “truth”?
The right answer to me.
Where does an average Junior High student most find their value?
In the affirmation and affection of their peers.
What is the biggest felt-need for Junior High students that you would argue finds fulfillment in salvation?
Being seen and adopted into a family that will always love them and where they have purpose.
What is the most effective language, narrative, approach, or terminology to use when talking to an unchurched Junior High student about salvation?
The adoption metaphor. They were lost and alone, living in an orphanage with no rules. Dog eat dog world. In this world we are the boss. We can do whatever we want. But as we have found, our freedom comes with a cost. And in a total act of grace and mercy, he dispatched Jesus to invade the orphanage, pay our adoption fees, and have adopted us as full daughters and sons with all the rights and responsibilities. (Our church and unchurched kids get it) But we must submit the rule of our own lives and come under our new heavenly father’s care and rule.
What is the most effective program, approach, activity, or event to use when presenting salvation to an unchurched Junior High student?
Camps are always the best. But we have had success at youth group too. It is usually a pretty big leap to get a brand new kid who has never been to church get all of it on day one. That is why camps rule, and slow and steady, good healthy ministry.
Complete this sentence, “I believe Junior High students are wired to crave…"
Complete this sentence, “Aside from the spiritual pull, the biggest obstacle between Junior High students and salvation is…."
Their developmental moment. They are abstract thinking infants. The concepts of salvation are more understandable to a 4th grader. They rapidly changing body and brain make it difficult to grasp salvation and their need for it. They are just now beginning to experience relational pain and brokenness and understanding it on an existential level.
When it comes to Junior High ministry nationwide, what is the must frustrating practice and/or methodology you see?
Firehosing them with scripture and theology. I find myself on the other end of the pendulum. 12-14 year olds are mostly kid with slight glimpses into adulthood, so our ministries should reflect that. Big fun that is emotionally safe, and give them states of the goodness of Jesus.