Surviving Middle School – Youth Leader Edition
By Dave Weiss • AMOK Arts • Mohrsville, Pennsylvania
I was in my first year as the volunteer youth leader of a small church youth group. We had ten to fifteen kids – mostly High Schoolers. They listened, they participated, they were into what I was saying and they genuinely cared about this “Jesus stuff.” The experience was awesome; just the kind of group that you’d hope God would give every Rookie. This youth stuff was easy! I was great at it! The kids loved me! I was in the center of God’s will for my life and all was right with the world! I had smooth sailing – but then, it happened.
Summer ended and fall brought a whole new crop of students. Suddenly my group was composed of mostly Middle School kids. I figured, “No big deal. They’re younger, they’ll be easier, and my older students will help to bring them along.”
Boy, was I wrong!
Those younger students were totally different. They changed moods quicker than a Nascar pit crew can change a tire. They had the attention span of a gnat. I could go from world’s greatest guy to supervillain with a glance that I didn’t even know I glanced. A couple of my older students, the ones on whom I was depending for help, got so tired of the shenanigans of the Middle Schoolers that they left.
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I went from feeling that I had all the answers to wondering if I knew anything. I went from feeling that I was at the center of God’s will to believing God called me to anyplace but there. Those Middle School kids almost made me quit youth ministry.
If you’re at that point, or even close, let me tell you what I learned.
Divide and Conquer.
No youthworker is an island; get help, and divide your group. In bigger churches this isn’t a problem, but in small churches with five, ten, or fifteen kids, the instinct is to just blur the ages together. Don’t do it. The six years between 12 and 18 might as well be six light years. The level of maturity between Middle School and High School kids is not even close, and we shouldn’t expect it to be. Hold a few youth events and invite adults from the church to attend. The people to whom the kids gravitate should be among the first people you tap for help. Make no mistake; while Scripture may be vague in this area, working with Middle School students is a spiritual gift! Some people have it; some people don’t. Don’t necessarily assume that the youngest, coolest adult in the church is your best volunteer. One of the best volunteers I ever had was old enough to be these kids’ grandparent.
Work on your memory.
The changes Middle Schoolers are going through are some of the most difficult they will face in a lifetime – and many of those changes are happening to your young friends simultaneously. Remember what you felt when you thought no one understood you. Remember experiencing all those physical, mental and emotional changes. Remember the insecurity. Many things have changed since you were the age of these kids, but all of those struggles, for the most part, remain unchanged.
This too shall pass.
Adolescence is here today and gone tomorrow, but kids will never forget the one who loved them through that passage. God is offering you that privilege. If God has allowed you to work with Middle School students, He has entrusted you to work with some of His most precious creations at the most difficult point in their lives. Some of the greatest success stories I have seen in my ministry have come through the people who almost made me quit.