Wanna know how I ended up with a preferential option for people who are in middle school?
It started when I took a job working specifically with 9th-12th grade students. Five years into ministry, I became a high school pastor. (Exhale.)
It wasn’t that I didn’t like middle school students. They were great, but I thought focusing on high school ministry was my chance to really get to know the students who were more like me.
(SIDE NUGGET: One of the false assumptions I made early in youth ministry was that my students were like me. Every student is different. When I was 21 years old, leading 18 and 19 year olds, even then I was in a different place than they were.)
As a new high school leader, I would watch the vibrant middle school ministry from a distance, openly grateful that I could focus on the later four years. I even said it out loud… ”I’ll probably never do Middle School Ministry again.” I’d read the things Kurt Johnston and Scott Rubin were writing, gleaning the good stuff they had to offer, yet ignoring their love for middle schoolers. I’d hear Heather Flies and Katie Edwards express such passion for this remarkable opportunity to serve the youngest.
I’d nod in loving approval but never wanted to join the club.
Things changed for me at my next ministry assignment. I was looking for a new ministry and the church I was praying about had one opening. It was the middle school position.
Because the beach was calling my name and the church was one that I’ve wanted to work at for years, I said “yes”, halfway thinking that my yes to Middle School Ministry would eventually be a transition to High School Ministry (again).
Sheesh, was I wrong! Here I am over six years later, 3 high school pastors later, and I’m still the middle school youth pastor.
I was given the option when others transitioned. Do you want to do high school ministry now? I didn’t have to think for long. It was a no.
I could see what those Middle School Ministry people had been talking about all along.
Middle School Ministry is where we have the most potential for impact.
Middle school is where the brains are holding on a little bit longer to what you say and their hearts are willing to express themselves more quickly in questions and exploration.
Middle school is where it’s at. It’s where it begins. It’s where the adolescent party starts.
And the cool thing? I get to watch our middle schoolers graduate into the High School Ministry and still have the relationships that we started when they were 11. I love that! The relationships we build in middle school strengthen the ministries we have with students in high school.
What I’ve learned is that middle school ministry isn’t a holding tank until they can get to the good stuff of High School Ministry. Middle School Ministry is the fertile ground for faith experiences that help shape an entire lifetime.
I should have known… that a no and a never would lead to a yes and an always.
Regardless what’s in my future. I will know and always be committed to the potential that is in our youngest teenagers. They have shown me a part of God that no one else can.
So never say never.
Or, go ahead, say never! I dare you.
Because, if you’re anything like me, your never might turn into a forever and you’ll find yourself loving the ones you thought you couldn’t. You’ll find yourselves in that place that other people think is for “other people” and you look out and wish that everyone else knew your secret…
That you’ve got the best job in the whole world. And you’re so glad that you get to do it.