Kurt Johnston has been a junior high youth pastor since forever. He loves middle school and junior high students. He understands middle school and high school students. His short book, 99 Thoughts about Junior High Ministry, offers up bite-sized words of encouragement and wisdom to anyone working with young adolescents in a ministry setting. Of his 99 thoughts for junior high youth pastors, at least 80% of them pertain to those of us doing WyldLife.
Here are a few paraphrased and adapted highlights:
Get input from your WyldLife kids, and then use your adult filter. Kids know what they like and don’t like. They’re fun, funny, and creative. Also they are full of strong opinions. (Shocker.) But they don’t have life experience, deep discernment, or loads of common sense. Get ideas and feedback from your students, and then filter it through your adult lens.
Remember – we are always planting seeds and we are always watering. Sometimes we get to see a harvest. It’s not our job to make sure every kid becomes a Christ-follower. We are primarily in the business of seed-planting.
Embrace the squiggle. That is, remember that every kind of development – emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual – is much more like a squiggly line than a rocket-launch trajectory. If you can’t handle the squiggle, this might not be the best ministry for you.
Provide lots of opportunities for questions and discussion. Young adolescents are often told things and talked at – by teachers, coaches, and parents. Let’s be people who allow push-back, questions, and doubts.
Normalize, normalize, normalize! Almost every young adolescent is convinced that they are the only one! The only one who doesn’t fit in, who isn’t athletic enough, whose parents are psycho, who looks like this, who doesn’t have enough or the right friends, who is too ____ and not _____ enough. [Your leadership team needs to pay attention to those blanks and learn from them. This will be helpful.] Whenever possible, help normalize their experience and emotions. Help them see that their struggles, insecurities, and uncertainties are common.
Don’t underestimate the impact older adults can make. Is your leadership team all under the age of 25? 30? 35? Do you have a 50 or 60 or 70 year old on your team? You should. Seriously. Diversity includes age. We all need the experience, joy, kindness, and patience that often only comes with age. Plus: who doesn’t love grandparent-figures??
Put your leaders in a box … and then EXPAND the box. Ministry leadership teams need parameters and boundaries. It provides the necessary structure for doing what we do with excellence. [Imagine football with no rules. Gah. Horror.] Decide what your parameters and boundaries need to be, and then expand them – which isn’t the same thing as discarding them. Invite new ideas, big dreams, quirky innovation, and joyful creativity.
Worry less about being a leader and more about being a shepherd. Do you know what most ministry folks are reading these days? Leadership books. For many people “leadership” becomes an excuse to be lazy. “I don’t do the nitty-gritty stuff’ I like to cast vision.” Newsflash: ANYBODY can cast vision – toddlers, school-aged kids, teenagers, anybody. At our core, we are pastors, called to tend a flock, feed a flock, and fend off wolves. Jesus was “the good shepherd,” not “the good leader.”
Remember that you’re a leader – so act like it. #52 was “worry less about being a leader.” You are a leader – of people, a ministry, kids, etc. So start acting like it. “A leader gives up some rights for the good of the whole. A leader sees in others what they don’t see in themselves. A leader recognizes the direction things need to go and gets the ministry of the team there. A leader knows his strengths and weaknesses. A leader develops a healthy team – not of people who exist only to accomplish her goals, but of empowered initiative-takers.” (That’s straight from Kurt’s mouth – book – whatever.)
Spiritually immature leaders aren’t the right leaders for WyldLife. Our middle school friends are in the throes of identity development, have doubts about who they are, have deep worries about life, are struggling to separate themselves from their parents, and have serious questions about God and faith. They need mature Christ-followers to help guide them while they navigate life. Here’s the deal: for every young, cool leader on your team, have an older, wiser one too.
Get the whole book here.
See 10 more important things about middle school ministry here.