Why I Work with Middle Schoolers

When people hear that I work with the middle school ministry at my church, I get this response nine times out of ten: “Wow, I could never do that.”

I don’t know why middle school ministry is made to sound so rough and scary. They’re just tinier, less evolved high schoolers. Yes, they get crazy and are going through weird stages of puberty, but I would pick middle school ministry over high school ministry hands down. Not to say there’s anything wrong with working with high schoolers. I just feel the same way about that as many people feel about working with middle school. Totally not my scene.

In case you have any curiosity as to why on earth working with middle school would be appealing, I am going to give you MY side of things. I think it’s time to set the record straight.

MY TOP TEN REASONS FOR WHY I LOVE WORKING WITH MIDDLE SCHOOLERS

1. I am one.

I’m pretty sure I’m a middle schooler in a college student’s body. You know how in middle school you liked to experiment with fashion and giggle about boys and be super obnoxious? Yeah, I never outgrew that phase. I can work well with middle schoolers because they basically consider me one of them.

2. They’re the right kind of weird.

High schoolers and middle schoolers are both weird, but it’s a different kind of weird. In high school, weird often means that you have really intense feelings you share on Tumblr. In middle school, weird means you watch anime and wear glow-in-the-dark earrings for the fun of it.

I like the latter kind of weird. I’m more prone to enjoy watching anime than sitting down and talking about ex-boyfriends.

3. They’re easy to talk to.

If you’re ever in doubt on how to carry a conversation with a middle schooler, try following my A-B-C plan.

A: Ask about movies.

This is almost always my fallback if I have nothing to strike a conversation with. I guarantee you that every middle schooler watches movies. Unless maybe they’re home-schooled. But that’s a different story.

“Hey, [insert name here]! Have you seen any good movies lately?”

“I saw Divergent.”

“Oh my gosh! I heard that was so good! Who was your favorite character? Is it worth seeing in the theatre?”

“Yeah, I love Triss. You should totally see it.”

“Sweet!”

B: Be weird.

Pose strange yet almost philosophical questions.

“Do you ever wonder what it’d be like if dinosaurs were still around? Do you think we’d eventually domesticate them?”

“Have you ever wondered if maybe you see some colors differently than other people? Is your shirt really blue or am I just seeing it as blue?”

Also, don’t be afraid to break out into song.

“HEEEEELLLOOOO THERE, LEAAAHHHH! LOVELY DAAAAY WE’RE HAVING TODAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!”

If they sing back, you made a friend.

C: Convince them that you’re interested in school.

I use the word “convince” because I am usually not genuinely interested in their classes. Like some of the middle school girls will get together and complain about this one teacher, and I’m just totally lost because 1) I don’t have that teacher, and 2) I don’t even go to their school.

But for the sake of carrying a conversation, I tend to inquire about school or extracurricular activities because that’s what their days usually contain. They don’t have careers or ministries or kids. They just have school and home. That’s what matters to them, hence it has to matter to us.

So, here are some sample open-ended questions:

1) What tests or projects did you have this week?

2) Hey, aren’t CRCTs coming up soon? What’s your least favorite subject and why?

3) Which sports or instruments do you play? How often do you practice?

4) What are your teachers like?

And there you have it. My A-B-C’s.

Now if I were working with high schoolers, I’d imagine my conversations to end up like this:

“Hey, [insert name here]! Have you seen any good movies lately?”

“Yeah, I saw [insert indie film I’ve never seen here]. It’s really obscure. You’ve probably never heard of it.”

“Oh… was it any good?”

“I feel like it revealed the depth of our humanity in the grotesque and raw nature the characters were developed and portrayed. The director really understands the relations between the cosmos and our infallible mortality. [insert more weird lingo I don’t understand here].”

“Oh…”

Or:

“Hey, do you ever wonder what it’d be like if dinosaurs were still around?”

“Not really.”

4. I’m less clueless than they are.

With middle schoolers, I feel like I have the upper hand in that I’m beyond their age by at least six years. That means, I have six years of experience that they have not yet lived, which I can thus encourage and counsel them with. Not only did I survive middle school, but I somehow made it out alive from high school, too. And now I’m in the big bad world of college. Middle schoolers understand that I have knowledge they have not.

Whereas I’m just as clueless as most high schoolers. We’d both be banging our head into the wall from not knowing which major to choose.

Middle schoolers don’t have to worry about majors or careers or the potentials of marriage just yet.

They do have real worries. But they’re of a different kind. And I feel a whole lot more equipped to bear those burdens with them than I do with high schoolers.

“Hey, you get made fun of wearing Crocs? It’s okay. You rock those Crocs. I’ll wear them, too” [high-five]

5. They boost my self-esteem.

They don’t know yet how awkward and strange I am because everyone older than them is automatically labeled as cool and awesome. When I stopped by my church to surprise visit the middle schoolers this past Sunday, I got about four or five hugs within the first five minutes as they were gushing about how much they missed me. And all I could think was, Man, I sure am awesome.

If I worked with high schoolers and came back to visit after a month of being gone, they’d probably look at me unimpressed, Starbucks in one hand and iPhone in the other. “Oh, hey… you’re back.” I know they would be nowhere near as excited because 1) I don’t have an Instagram and that automatically destroys my street cred, and 2) they have their own cool friends so why do they need me?

I’m not the cool older sister to high schoolers. I’m just the girl who’s slightly more mature and slightly older.

But with middle schoolers? I could tell them to jump off a bridge and they might actually do it. They’d think it was an improv game.

6. They’re disciplinable.

Tell a middle schooler to sit down and shut up, and they’ll do it. It’ll be a struggle for them at first because their mind is racing like 80 miles per hour, but they’ll be too intimidated to argue or blatantly disobey.

Tell a high schooler to sit down and shut up, and you get a whole lecture on how you’re not their mom and they don’t have to listen to you and they’re sick of people thinking they can disrespect them and they just need to fight the man.

You see, middle schoolers are trained to listen and respect. They haven’t yet entered the ninth grade, where all rebellion ensues and adults become the number one enemy.

7. They’re in danger.

Now I’m all for mentoring high schoolers as they deal with some of the most extreme pressures of life. High schoolers are automatically more susceptible to drugs, alcohol, temptations for impurity, self-harm, and rebellious behaviors simply because they have more access and more opportunities. They need support and encouragement and coaching.

But middle schoolers need encouragement and coaching, too, and it’s especially important this is not overlooked.

Middle schoolers can get into those kinds of harmful behaviors, but usually there’s not as much opportunity as there is for high schoolers, which is great! It means there’s still time to help them choose the better ways of life before they cross paths with such things. I want to walk with middle schoolers and see a love and reverence for God instilled in them before they reach those opportunities.

However, we live in a society where more and more dangerous things are being introduced into the lives of middle schoolers. Drugs are making their ways into these schools, the pressure to be skinny and fit in is at an all-time high, and there are more opportunities for stumbling into sin due to social media and changing standards of society.

We can guide and pour into high schoolers as they are inevitably surrounded by these things, but it’s also vital that we invest in middle schoolers and encourage them to stay on a righteous path BEFORE and RIGHT AS they are becoming surrounded by these things.

Middle schoolers are in danger, too.

8. It’s not hard to impress them.

Want to throw an event that is sure to impress middle schoolers? Have a DJ and free candy.

Want to throw an event that is sure to impress high schoolers? Have a DJ, free candy, glow sticks, paint ball, water fights, sumo wrestling, a celebrity appearance, and a hookah. I’m kidding about the last one.

It’s not that hard to impress middle schoolers because they haven’t seen it all yet.

9. They aren’t all over social media.

Sometimes I have to fight to get middle schoolers’ attention because they’re on Instagram or playing a game. But at least I’m not having to fight Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, AND texts from fifty boys, which is sort of how I feel when I’m trying to talk to a high schooler.

10. They’re just fun.

I LOVE working with middle schoolers because they know how to be fun. Yes, a part of them is scared of standing out and being judged by their peers. But once they get past that feeling of awkwardness, they really do know how to be fun and comfortably crazy. I like seeing them that way because it gives ME permission to have fun, too. We’re weird together, we laugh together, we play games together, and we randomly dance together. It’s just the middle school way of life. And right now that’s all I need.

I know that some people prefer high school ministry to middle school ministry because high schoolers are less hyper and tend to be more serious, but I am all for that hyperactivity and less serious stuff. Those things really are great, too.

I like being able to walk into the middle school room and see kids playing ping pong while screaming at their top of their lungs. It’s wild, but it gives me a boost of life. So I run up to them and yell “HEEEEEYYYYY!!!” right back. They love that.

I like that things tend to be less serious because it keeps me young and refreshed. Working with high schoolers sometimes hurt. It’s hard to pour yourself into a high school girl as she deals with depression and struggles with her purity. You so badly want to see her free from that stuff while knowing you can’t ultimately change her mind or her life. No matter how consistent you are with your encouragement and prayer, there are those who will walk away from their faith in the course of their high school career. And it will be painful to watch. Many will graduate and go off to college and leave this town behind without second thought.

I just want to thank you, high school leaders and mentors. Thank you so much for pouring into high schoolers because it DOES make a difference. We need you. You are an important part of the body. You are helping raise up leaders, the next generation of world-changers. You deal with hard stuff, but you don’t quit on your kids. Just as Jesus has never quit on us.

And middle schooler leaders and mentors, thank you for embarking on the crazy, sugared-up adventure that is known as middle school ministry. People won’t always understand why you work with this demographic, but I do. It IS rewarding. Sometimes the greatest results aren’t seen, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t making a great impact. Middle school is treacherous, too, but having leaders like you working in a safe, God-filled place like church gives kids the freedom to still enjoy being kids.

Both ministries are needed. And sometimes middle school ministry gets discounted. But here me out when I say that it’s the one of my favorite things in this world, and I can’t imagine trading it out for anything else right now. When you see God move, you realize ministry is a lot bigger than you. Middle school ministry is no exception.

It’s bigger than me, and I am enjoying and learning from just about every second of it.

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