There is a great website I just found out about called Stuck In the Middle (www.stuckinthemiddle.com) that is specifically designed to support parents and teens in the Jr. high. This is a tough time for kids as they transition into adolescence, and can be just as trying for parents who can’t seem to figure out what is happening to their ‘sweet little angel’.
Go check out the site, as it has some really cool stuff available. I wouldn’t just leave you with that though, I found this great article from another pastor posted there about disciple in dealing with pre-teens. Again, a touchy subject for some and a puzzle for others…I hope you enjoy!
What God’s Word says about Discipling Young Teens
The Bible is more practical than we give it credit for, especially when it comes to discipleship. So what does it look like to Biblically disciple a junior high student?
Junior highers work hard to carve out an identity and be unique, so it seems like the answer would be confusing, ever-changing, or just plain difficult. But scripture has a lot to say. A good starting point is the “one another’s.”
These principles tell us how to act with all people, of all ages, including students, and they should define our ministry and all of our interactions with students, parents, leaders, everyone.
Be Loving and Compassionate
(John 13:34-35; John 15:12, 17)
Every interaction we have with students must rest on love. Perhaps this is ambiguous, but I don’t think it’s as complicated as we make it. The rest of the one another’s fill in the details.
Serve one another
(John 13:14, 2Corinthians 13:12)
Your ministry is not for you or your senior pastor. It’s not for you to make a name for yourself, or be the biggest game in town. You are there for your students, to minister to them how God would have you. Are you really serving them?
Your students should look to you and their leaders like the disciples looked at Jesus when he washed their feet. “You are older, wiser, and in charge. I should learn from and serve you. Surely, you’re not washing my feet!” Our students should be amazed at how we humbly serve them. A culture like this would not make an arrogant group of students that feel entitled, but rather, as we see in the disciples, a group that replicates.
Be patient and bear with one another
(Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:13)
Working with students can be hard. A volunteer in my ministry said to me recently, “It’s the drama that kills me! All students see is their little world! It’s not as dramatic as they think!”
While I agree with this leader, she touches something interesting beside her point. Our call to be patient and bear with one another assumes that there will be students in our lives that are hard to bear and that draw out our patience. In short, they create our drama. Many of you have specific students in mind already.
But we look to Christ here. Certainly, no student is any more obnoxious, unnecessarily dramatic, or flaky with us than we are with Christ. Yet he bears with us and is continually patient toward us. We’re also called to forgive (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13), which prevents ongoing bitterness or frustration with our students.
Which leads us to:
Don’t grumble against or slander one another
(Philippians 2:14, James 4:11, 5:9)
It is very easy in youth ministry to unload some of the burdens of ministry by complaining about students. While this is tragic, it’s a reality many of us fall into.
Even in our greatest frustrations and letdowns, our words about our students should be honoring and uplifting. There are times when hard truths need to be spoken, but that is usually to the student and/or their parent. Not about them to our spouses, co-leaders, or other pastors.
Pray and Confess Sin
This is a short and simple point: you need to provide regular opportunities for your students to confess sin, pray, and be prayed for. Students are often slow to do these things, so to do them in haste, and not patiently allow intentional times for this kind of depth, is to set them up to fail.
Teach, Admonish, Instruct
(Romans 15:4, Colossians 3:16)
We should be teaching our students from the Word regularly and consistently. But we’re also called to admonish, encourage, and build up our students (1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11; Hebrews 3:13, 10:25). It’s not always “studious” teaching we’re called to. Often, it’s life we’re teaching them – encouraging them in their faith, counseling them through struggles and failures, and sometimes just downright cheerleading.
Youth ministry presents new challenges all the time, and while every student is just a little different, Scripture, and the God that breathed it, are and will always be the same. Where God calls us, he equips us, and if we will listen to His word, he can work through us to yield a powerful and effective ministry.
Dustin Nickerson is the Youth and Children’s Director at Mars Hill Church Bellevue. He has been working with junior high and high school students for 6 years in the Seattle area. Dustin is married to his wife of 6 years, Melissa, and is the father to Joel (3) and Gloria (8 months).