The joy (and ease) of meeting middle schoolers

It’s 6th-grade lunch hour at the middle school.

I don’t know anyone. I’m usually at 7th-grade lunch.

6th-graders are youngish and smallish, and so 6th-grade lunchroom contact work is supposed to be easy. It’s practically a guarantee. It’s almost a promise. It’s nearly a pinky promise.

But when you don’t know anyone in the middle school lunchroom, it doesn’t matter how youngish and smallish they are: you still have to walk into the lunchroom, try not to look overly uncomfortable while vulnerably embracing your authentic identity as someone who is oldish and biggish, and then find a place to sit yourself down so you can, you know, make contact.

One of the most beautiful things about WyldLife ministry is that it is, in many ways, easy and safe and natural to meet middle school kids. Even so, it doesn’t happen on its own. We must still make the first move. Middle school kids rarely initiate conversation or relationship.

On this particular day, I’ve got markers and paper in my bag. In case you missed the memo, markers and paper are magical. They can fast-track you through several weeks of initial awkward conversations and relationship starters with people of all ages.

So I walk into the lunch room, quickly scan for an empty seat at a girls’ table, and make my way towards a table-for-eight at which sits only three youngish and smallish 6th-grade girls. Three is a manageable number.

Even after all these years, I still take a deep breath, give myself a pep talk,  and smile widely before opening my mouth to speak.

“Hi girls. Could I sit here with you … while, um, I wait to meet my friends in 7th-grade lunch?” (I add that last phrase in a surprising moment of terrifying self-consciousness, which does still happen even to people who are oldish and biggish and have been doing this for a while.)

Silence. I keep smiling. I wait. I wonder if this will be the day when all my worries and fears finally come true as a middle schooler looks me directly in the eye and says, “No way, get lost, lady.” [In fact, I don’t know a single WyldLife leaders who has ever heard these words, but even so, I sometimes let the nagging whisper of fear make a mess of my joy and excitement.]

But this is not that day – which shouldn’t surprise me but still sometimes does.

“Sure! Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you here? What are you doing? What’s in your bag? Whooooaaaa … are those markers???

Indeed they are. And I am happy to share them, and to talk about school and ask about friends and visit about life while we scribble and draw and doodle. All three girls confidently announce that they are excellent and amazing artists who know a lot about how to draw really good and would I like to see what they can do??

Meeting middle schoolers is not rocket science. Spending time with them is not difficult. Breaking the ice with them is not tedious. Making conversation with them is not mysterious. Having fun with them is not difficult.

You already know that – it’s why you do what you do – but I wanted to remind you anyway, just in case that nagging whisper of fear threatens to make a mess of your joy and excitement.

Don’t let it. You are amazing. You are faithful. You are committed. You are in love with middle school kids and middle school ministry. You are a game-changer, and God is cheering you on. So get on out there and do what you do because, gracious sakes alive, there’s a whole lot of middle schoolers our there who need a whole lot of Jesus.






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