How to Help Middle School Students Love the Bible

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One time a middle school mom asked me: “How can I get my middle school son to love the Bible?” That’s an important question with which I constantly wrestle.

First a quick story. One time I was hanging out with a group of middle school boys. We were planning to play basketball, then eat dinner at Chick Fil A, and then go to a movie afterward. It turns out the boys weren’t excited about that plan and they begged me to instead let them hang out at a Starbucks the whole time. I asked why, and they said it was because they wanted to read their Bibles. So we sat at Starbucks for three hours and the boys sipped on lattes, read their Bibles, and intermittently paused to discuss the theological implications of what they were reading.

Yeah, right! That has never happened, nor will it ever happen during my tenure as a middle school pastor. I think every middle school student who goes to church knows that Christians are supposed to read the Bible. In reality, though, it is a monumental challenge to teach students to develop a Bible-reading lifestyle in a way that is realistic, encouraging, and not guilt-inducing.

A Middle School Boy’s Testimony

What does spiritual growth look like for a middle school boy? Here is a copy of a testimony that one of the students in my ministry shared recently. It’s the story of how God has worked in his life. I received permission from him and his parents to share this on my blog and changed a few details to protect his identity. His story provides a realistic look at spiritual growth through 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.

“I was born and raised in a strong Christian family. I accepted Christ when I was 6 years old. Although I accepted Christ at that age it didn’t change my behavior because I was so young.

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I was a good kid and always went to church. Except I never really enjoyed like worshipping because I thought it made you like uncool. And it wasn’t until the summer of 6th grade I think that I was at camp and in chapel and everyone was singing. I finally got out of my comfort zone and starting worshipping God, and when I look back on that I realize how dumb that was of me. Because I was at church where you can’t really be judged for singing and I thought I was too cool for it. But anyways I just decided to share that because I feel like worship music is where I feel the closest to God and feel his presence.

The Best Part About Middle School Ministry

I first met Jordan during my first year of being a middle school ministry volunteer during college. I remember our first conversation was about famous athletes and how their success and wealth didn’t seem to make them happy.

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Jordan and I would have multiple other meaningful conversations during the rest of his time in middle school. My connection with him was about as strong as my connection with Adam (see my earlier post).

Mentoring Middle School Boys, Part 4: Finish Well

This is part one of a four-part series about mentoring middle school boys. I would recommend you read an earlier post where I share some initial thoughts about mentoring middle school boys. You should also read part onepart two, and part three of this series before continuing.

There is not much about middle school ministry that can be considered “finished.” The moment you finish giving a talk, you’re thinking about the talk you need to give the next week. The moment you pull off a fun event, you’re thinking about the next big outing. The moment you graduate a class into high school, there’s a new group of young students just entering your ministry.

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On an even deeper level, students are never “finished.” They are always growing, changing, and developing during their middle school years. By the time they move on to high school they are far from being fully developed in any sense of the word. So after meeting with a student for six months or a year or two, how do you “finish” the process of mentoring a middle school boy?

Mentoring Middle School Boys, Part 3: The Meeting

This is part one of a four-part series about mentoring middle school boys. I would recommend you read an earlier post where I share some initial thoughts about mentoring middle school boys. You should also read part one and part two of this series before continuing.

Okay, so you’ve decided to mentor a middle school boy, his parents have given you their blessing, and the boy has agreed to begin mentoring with you. Now what? How do you actually pull it off?

Photo courtesy of Dollar Photo Club/Andrew Lever

I’ve been mentoring middle school boys on a one-on-one basis for about five years. I’ve learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work for mentoring boys that age. Here are some of the nitty-gritty details that I have found work best for a mentoring meeting (which I often refer to as a “one-on-one”):

Mentoring Middle School Boys, Part 2: How To Choose Who To Mentor

This is part two of a four-part series about mentoring middle school boys. I would recommend you read an earlier post where I share some initial thoughts about mentoring middle school boys. You should also read part one of this series before continuing.

As I get older I realize I don’t have the time or energy to do everything I want to do. That means I sometimes have to make difficult choices regarding how I spend my time. Difficult choices are necessary if I’m going to have maximum effectiveness in life.

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This principle applies with mentoring middle school boys. In a perfect world I would spend 45 hours every week mentoring middle schoolers one-on-one, 1 hour each with 45 different students. But the requirements of my personal and professional life do not allow for that, so I have decided that I can regularly mentor only three students at a time. It’s tough trying to choose who those three will be out of so many potential students.

Mentoring Middle School Boys, Part 1: Why It’s Important

This is part one of a four-part series about mentoring middle school boys. I would recommend you read an earlier post where I share some initial thoughts about mentoring middle school boys before continuing.

In my life I have found nothing that energizes me more than mentoring. It’s my absolute favorite thing to do in the world. And it may be no surprise that my favorite people to mentor are middle school boys.

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It will help if I am up-front about what I mean when I use the term “mentoring.” I see mentoring as the process by which an older or more experienced person guides a younger or more inexperienced person in certain aspects of life.

I feel passionate about mentoring middle school boys for three main reasons:

1. Mentors made a huge impact on my life. When I was in kindergarten I was paired up with a 5th grade student named Tommy who served as my mentor for the school year. I was so pumped whenever I got to be around him. I don’t remember much about him other than that he had a bowl cut, but as 6 year-old I thought he was the coolest guy ever!

From that point on I found myself constantly seeking out older guys who could mentor me or serve as role models. In 6th grade it was my Sunday school teacher Kyle. In 8th grade it was my friend’s dad Al. In 9th grade it was my youth pastor Sean. They helped form who I am today, and mentors continue to have an important role in my life.

I want to return the blessings and favors that all those men have provided me over the years. Mentoring middle school boys is one way I can pay that forward.

2. Middle school students are impressionable.  It’s during middle school when kids begin to ask who they are and where they belong in the world.. They develop abstract thinking abilities, take steps toward owning their faith, and make decisions that can affect the rest of their lives. These factors contribute to the formative nature of the middle school years.

Furthermore, middle school students are right in the sweet spot between being kids who are open to new experiences and adults who think at a mature level. It’s a perfect time for adults to step in and have an influence.

3. Mentoring gives me a sense of significance. Like most people, I desperately want to matter. I want to make an impact in the world. Mentoring allows me to feel like I am making a difference in people’s lives by helping them become wiser, more mature, more confident, more attuned to their gifts, or better in some area of life.

The best part is that by mentoring I can leave a legacy that far outlasts my life on this earth. Hopefully my influence on others will eventually lead them to do the same for others who in turn will do it for others, and on and on.

Conclusion: Over the course of the next few posts I will get into specific details about what it looks like to mentor a middle school boy. But hopefully this post reminds you of the importance and value of mentoring middle school boys.

You don’t have to be a youth pastor to be an effective mentor. All it really takes to be a good mentor is a genuine desire to patiently invest your time, gifts, and knowledge into someone else.

Even if you don’t feel called or aren’t in a position to mentor middle school boys, you can at least make sure they are surrounded by influential mentors. Believe it or not, despite (or because of) their energy and craziness it is possible to mentor middle school boys!

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Mentoring Middle School Boys Looks Like…

I’m not sure where it came from, but I used to have a wonderfully idealized perspective of what mentoring is. When I thought of mentoring I would picture two people sitting across from each other at a table, engaged in deep conversation, providing intense eye contact and gesturing with non-verbal feedback, all for hours on end.

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That might be how it happens for mature adults, but that approach does not work when mentoring middle school boys for two reasons: One, they are males so they usually don’t connect through conversation. Second, they are in middle school, which means it is a challenge to sustain a deep conversation with even the most talkative middle school boys for more than a few minutes. I quickly learned I had to re-think what mentoring middle school boys was supposed to be.

How I Dealt With the Naughty Kids

It became clear from the start that Skylar and Luke (names changed) were going to cause the most trouble in our small group. The two of them entirely changed the dynamic of our meetings when they were present and were constantly disruptive.

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At first I thought they were acting out and trying to get attention. I told myself that eventually they would calm down once I showed them unconditional love, but I was wrong.

The Worst Part About Middle School Ministry

It started out as the best relationship a youth leader could have with a student. Adam came into our ministry as a precocious 6th grader and he and I connected right away. Over the next few years we mutually had a profound impact on one another’s life. I impacted him by being a spiritual mentor during his young teenage years and he impacted me by showing me how fulfilling middle school ministry could be.

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We had spiritual conversations. I prayed with him a lot. His parents became friends of mine. We had fun on retreats, at concerts, and at camps. But things have changed in the past few years.