If speaking to Middle School students feels like an impossible task, you’re not alone. It’s such a feat, in fact, that few care to learn it: but not you! You’re here, concerned about translating the gospel into the (foreign, treacherous) culture of Jr High. The following read will take you about 7 minutes, and will revolutionize your communication style with pre-teen students.
1. Tell Stories
Stories are powerful. Ask Jesus. Ask Aesop. Ask Walt Disney. Ask Ellen Degeneres. There’s not a culture without legends, a child without imagination, a human without stories. While there is a time and place for rhetoric, lofty ideals and concept, it is not Middle School talks! Hone your storytelling craft: books, podcasts and even google searches yield hundreds of ways to listen to great stories and learn to tell the same. It’s worth it! Students will remember great stories for years.
2. Craft One Main Point
Be unforgettable -- and easy to not forget! Use one main point. Drive it home. This is not a time to wield a seminary degree, impress 12-year-olds, or craft the perfect 17-point sermon outlines. Literally, they don’t care. It is more important to give students one piece of truth that points them to Jesus than to flash Greek vocabulary everywhere. Articulate your one takeaway, condense it into 5-7 words, and repeat it like it’s your last name. Students should be able to tell their parents in the car on the way home what your main point was.
3. Make It Unforgettable (Or, HAVE FUN)
So, you have your one main point. But will they remember it tomorrow? What’s the “WOW!” factor? How can you sear your message into their mind? What sets your talk apart? Your job is to help them do what God tells the Israelites to do so often: remember. THINK BIG. Then go even bigger! If you’re talking about Jesus being our shepherd, is it possible you can bring a sheep in? Take them to a field of sheep? Show them a video of a wolf being chased off by a shepherd? Jesus was a master of using tangible objects as lessons. Plagiarize his method. (Has anyone ever told you the greatest sin in Middle School ministry? Yeah, you know it. Boredom. Don’t sin.) By focusing in on one main point instead of multiple, you allow yourself the time and energy to make that one point come alive in multiple ways.
4. Do Not Speak in Abstracts (Do Speak Concretely)
Abstraction is a foreign language to pre-teens. Seriously. If you’re not familiar with pre-teen psychology, and you work with them, study up. Here’s a teaser: Middle School students struggle to process abstract concepts. These years are for learning how to think abstractly -- and we do get to help them with that! -- but we should speak the gospel in their language, not expect them to understand the gospel in ours. Remember, Middle Schoolers are part-kid-part-adult. They don’t need tidy answers handed to them like they might have in elementary classes, but they’re also not quite ready to process everything on their own. They are only beginning to wrestle with big, ethereal questions -- don’t permit the gospel to become a simple mental gymnastic. They need to know Jesus loves them and gets them right where they are at. Speak their language.
Communicate concretely. What’s the immediate application of what you’re saying in their lives? How does this make a difference when Mom tells them to clean up their room tomorrow? If the Bible is not applicable to their lives, it will be mentally dismissed quickly. Set them up for practical success.
5. Address Emotions
We all know pre-teens are often overwhelmed (and overwhelming) in their emotions. It seems like they feel all the things, all the time. Keep this in mind when you communicate. What does Jesus have to do with jealousy? Anger? Fear? Worry? Is God really bigger than their emotions? Again, be students of students. GIve pre-teens solid handles on how to follow Jesus when emotional waves make it hard to think clearly.