I recently met with a group of high school students who had gone through my middle school ministry. They’ve all gotten taller and the boys’ voices are deeper but they’re still the same wonderful people I used to know. It’s fun to see how much they’ve matured since 8th grade. I love staying in touch with former students.
The purpose of my meeting was to grill them with questions about their middle school experience. I was curious about what they remember and what was impactful during their time in my ministry. I was hoping to get insight into how I can improve my current ministry with middle school students. Here are five of the most interesting things that they said:
“Middle school ministry gave us an opportunity to have clean fun and build positive memories.”
Middle school students begin to have a broad range of opportunities for fun and entertainment. Roads diverge and, if they want, students can start to get into bad stuff. I love that church can provide clean fun. Real, genuine fun that rivals the “bad fun” that could be had elsewhere. Except that the fun we offer is life-giving and not destructive. Middle school is filled with enough painful moments; church should be a refuge for students.
“When you’re laughing, it brings down walls.”
This is true no matter how old you are. I want students to take their faith seriously but that doesn’t mean they always must act serious. Laughter, levity, and a warm atmosphere are important for middle school students. Not only does it help students feel emotionally safe; it also helps students connect with one another.
“The boys and girls started to mingle together in middle school, when we were more vulnerable and less mature. Since we established that connection in middle school, now we’re able to mature together as we move through high school.”
Here’s my paraphrase: It was easier for boys and girls to bond in middle school as opposed to if they had started in high school. I’m a big fan of healthy mingling between middle school boys and girls. It’s the perfect time to help students begin to develop healthy cross-gender friendships. Walls are down and defenses aren’t as strong as in high school. Boy-girl relationships only get more complicated as students get older.
“The leaders helped by being accepting and creating a safe environment—they didn’t make us feel stupid for giving confusing answers.”
Middle school students say weird, silly, and random things. It’s valuable for adults to know how to respond when students say zany things. What do you do if a student says something blatantly wrong? I’m a huge fan of truth but I’m also a huge fan of creating an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. We should err on the side of gently re-directing a wrong answer as opposed to coming right out and labeling a student’s answer as “wrong” in front of his or her peers.
“The leaders let us be us but still kept us on track.”
Adults must strike a delicate balance when trying to keep a group of middle school students focused. Try to run a tight ship and students will check out and not enjoy themselves. Loosen the reins too much and the room can feel chaotic and nobody has fun. Locating that razor-thin middle ground can be difficult. It takes wisdom and patience to effectively lead a group of middle school students.
As you read this you might be taking solace in the fact that your middle schooler will eventually be a high schooler. As much as I love middle school students, I’ll admit there are lots of likable traits about high schoolers. For example, when I’m with high school students I always notice how much more laid-back they are than middle schoolers. High schoolers don’t have the same spazzy-nervous energy as middle schoolers. High schoolers are much more “chill.”
All middle schoolers will soon enough be high schoolers. However, if you’re a parent or leader of middle school students then don’t look too far ahead. God has placed a middle school student (or a group of middle school students) in your life right now. That’s your God-given mission for this season of your life.
I know it’s my mission for this season of my life. That mission drives me crazy from time to time but I would have it no other way.