Generally, when someone mentions the word Culture, we tend to quickly visualize grass huts, strange-looking natives, undecipherable language, and mind-boggling rituals midst a foreign land. You know, hula skirts, nose rings, and a violent and confusing dance around some sort of massive, blazing fire.
Let’s be real, People; That is not normally the case. And if you think it is, you might want to take an Anthropology class… Or five.
Most people don’t typically associate Middle School with Culture, but I do. My friends, let me tell you: Middle School is a foreign land. However, being that most people don’t even consider Middle School as it’s own sub-culture, most people also neglect to understand the very “natives” living within it: 11, 12, and 13-year-olds.
That’s huge. I don’t know about you, but I consider those the most awkward and uncomfortable ages in American Society. All three years! Can somebody say pre-pubescent? Yikes. Personally, I’ve blocked out most of my own middle school career from my memory; those days were roughhh.
I wonder, is that why when teenagers enter high school they are so prevalent in struggling with the issues and confusion of peer pressure, sexual impurity, obsession of vanity, loneliness and depression? Because there aren’t enough leaders to view middle school as a mission field in itself? By the time a student reaches high school, certain aspects of their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ have already solidified. So when you try to minister to a Freshman or a Sophomore in High School about how much Jesus loves them, it’s going to be a challenging road; they have had 6th, 7th and 8th grade (probably the three most confusing and embarrassing intervals of their life thus far) to deal and comprehend with who Jesus is and why He matters. Those three years make all the difference in a child’s relationship with Christ. Middle School is where children are biologically, physically, emotionally and mentally developing who they are and what their place in society is. They are essentially sponges at this point of their lives – taking in as much as they can so that they can make sense of the world they live in. My only question is, what are they soaking up?
Let me be clear, “throwing a Bible” and rehearsing Proverbs to a middle schooler does not show them who Jesus is nor why He matters. That’s where we come in; that’s our job – as Christians, as leaders, as parents. Our job is to show these preteens and adolescents who Jesus is and why He matters. By “show” I mean living by example as Christ would and having authentic love.
One of the many things I remind my middle school girls is that “you maybe the only Jesus anyone ever meets”. Well, in the same manner, “I maybe the only Jesus they ever meet”. So who am I representing through my actions?
Truthfully, most deep relationships with Christ did not solely come to be just by reading the Bible and attending church. They were shaped by relationships with other people. When I think about how much Jesus loves me, I think about my dad and how he would take me for trips to the beach after a bad day at school. I think about the patience and belief in my ability to succeed that my social studies teachers had in me. I remember my youth pastor telling the absolute lamest jokes and making us do the dumbest icebreakers just so he could get to know us. I remember my awesome youth leader offering me cereal even though she knew I didn’t want any. These experiences pushed me to want to have a relationship with Jesus because the people I cared about (the people that cared about me) loved Jesus; Their kindness and example gave me a visual of who Jesus is but it was the relationship I had with them that made me want to believe.
I loved them and they loved Jesus, therefore, I wanted to love Him too. When I look at my girls, I see that in them as well; They love me, and I love Jesus, therefore, they want to love Him too.
You know what’s most interesting? My girls can pick up when/if I’m faking. Middle Schoolers are super quick to determine whether you are being authentic or just straight up pretending. Bottom line: If you want middle schoolers to have an authentic love for Jesus, you’re going to need to have that authentic love first. Developing that raw relationship with Jesus is key; and it’s okay if you make mistakes – middle schoolers take that as apart of your genuineness in your faith. There’s no such thing as a perfect Christian – no one is perfect and you know what? Middle schoolers need to know that’s okay. If there were ever a group of people that needed to understand that perfection isn’t required of them, it would be the voice-cracking, newly puberty-stricken, and stumbling-on-my-feet-while-walking people that are Middle Schoolers.
As Christians are we doing all that we can do to reach our middle schools kiddos for Christ? Or have we forgotten that Middle School is a foreign land that requires dedicated missionaries to understand and love the people within it? It’s not our job to completely change middle school culture but it is our job to love our middle schoolers so much that they can thrive where they are and know exactly who they are in Christ.
My challenge to you is to pray whether you are one of those people who can focus and truly guide such a challenging and neglected age-group. Middle School ministry is not for everyone, but I will assure you, once you understand the culture and dive in, you might just fall in love with it.