Middle schoolers often get a bad rap. In our culture very little is expected of them or from them. If they can avoid destroying everything around them and showering a few times a week we feel like they are exceptional. This is both sad and unfortunate as these students have unlimited potential and amazing gifts that can change the world right now for Jesus Christ.
In my 28 years in youth ministry here are just a few of the things I have witnessed middle schoolers doing:
- Bringing their non-Christian friends to youth group
- Leading church services
- Serving at homeless shelters, food banks, and other community organizations
- Leading children’s ministries
- Helping to build homes for those in need
- Leading their friends to Christ
- Asking questions of incredible depth and maturity
- Helping their friends as they struggle through things like their parents’ divorce, death of friends, addictions, depression, bullying
- Leading youth group
The list could go on and on. Many people say that students are the leaders of the future, and to that I say they are leader’s now- if we let them be. So how do we develop these young people who have amazing potential? Here are a few ideas.
1- Spend time with them:
Middle schoolers want your time and attention- give it to them. Spend time with them, get to know what makes them tick. They need adults to help walk with them through the multitude of changes they are going through- someone who will be there for them consistently that they can rely on and trust. We all want that ourselves and middle schoolers are no different. Set up a regular mentoring meeting with them and talk about life, faith, family, school, etc. Take them with you to what you normally do in your life- the gym, grocery store, movies, etc. Allow them to live life with you and you with them. If possible join them for lunch at their school or at least go to their events (sports, musical) at school. Be present in their lives and share yours with them as well.
2- Let them serve:
2- Let them serve:
There are so many ways that middle school students can and would love to serve. It could be at a fundraiser your ministry is doing or a service project your church is a part of. Maybe it’s cleaning up after the church meal on Wednesday night or helping to collect the offering at a church service. One thing I have my students do is to help serve communion each month during one of our Sunday services. Service is a great way for them to use the gifts and talents that God gave them. It puts them in front of others who can see all that these students can do. It also helps the students to have an others-focused view of the world and ideally continue to seek out ways that they can keep serving as they get older.
3- Let them lead:
Leadership is influence and these kids have influence. Give them real chances to learn how to lead others. Having middle schoolers lead gives them a great training ground for gaining and sharpening leadership skills. They’re in a safe environment where you can mentor, evaluate, and walk with them as they test out the waters of leadership. When they are in a leadership role in your ministry, it helps make it their ministry as well—they become invested in seeing it succeed and grow. They gain valuable tools and experiences that help them become even more effective leaders in the future and it helps them see the needs around them and develops in them a heart of compassion and service. Middle schoolers can lead a small group Bible study, announcements, large group games, prayer, service projects, and so much more. All they need is the chance to lead and a wise mentor to guide them.
Embrace, don’t fear, the middle schoolers in your midst. See their potential now and in the future to change your ministry, your community, and the world for Jesus Christ. Support them, be their advocate, and be their friend. Love them and watch them take off to amazing places and possibilities.
Frank Newburn is a husband, father of 3, and youth director for Wesley United Methodist Church in Bloomington, IL. His ministry focuses include mentoring and discipleship, student leadership, and missions and has over 28 years of youth ministry experience. He holds degrees in Psychology, Christian Education, Biblical and Theological Studies, and a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, all from Wheaton College. Frank enjoys movies, cooking, working out, and spending time with his wife and kids.
You can contact Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his ministry at http://wesley-umc.com/wesley/index.php/get-connected/youth. Frank is also a contributing writer for Youth Specialties: https://youthspecialties.com/blog/tag/frank-newburn/ And for LeaderTreks: https://www.leadertreks.org/contributors/frank-newburn/