Middle School

Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

Okay, I’ll admit it; there are things about junior high ministry, and junior highers in general, that I just don’t like. It’s the stuff that I’ve tolerated for 25 years because of my love for, and calling to, this wonderful age group. Here are just a few things that make me cringe:

– The “Steal The Cute Boy’s Hat” game that girls love to play. You know the one: Girl steals boys cap and boy proceeds to chase said girl all around the youth room. Why do I loathe it so? I have no idea.

– When a junior higher, usually a girl and usually one with sticky hands, sneaks up from behind me, covers my eyes and makes me guess who it is. I know it’s a way of showing endearment, but yuck. Of course, if I was just a little taller my eyes would be out of reach which is why my junior high ministry buddy, Scott Rubin, has no idea this ritual even exists!

– The relentless questions by some students that just don’t need to be asked! Hey, I’m all for inquisitiveness and discovery…that’s a really fun part about working with young teens. But I’m not talking about that stuff; I’m talking about the kid who, while at camp, fires a barrage of unimportant, or previously answered questions: “When is lunch?”, “What do we do during chapel?”, “Why isn’t there any fruit loops?”, “How long is free time?”, “What do I do if I get bored?”, “Am I allowed to get a drink of water on my own?”. You know the kid I’m talking about.

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– Close Talkers. I’m apposed to close talkers of all ages, and I think the habit starts in junior high when students are dying for attention and want to make sure they are getting it….in an up-close and personal way. So, in an effort to prevent them from a life of extremely awkward conversations (of course, close talkers don’t find it awkward AT ALL), I simply don’t tolerate the practice. I’m cringing just thinking about close talkers.

– That game they play at the table at camp…the one where they move their cups around and stack them to some sort of beat. I’m sure this dumb game has a name, but I’ve never stuck around in its presence long enough to learn it.

I’m sure there are other things that make me cringe, but those are the ones that came rushing to my fingertips as soon as I started to type.

Here’s your chance to vent (it feels pretty good, and it’s okay to do once in a while…). What about junior high ministry makes you cringe?

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  • Katie W says:

    Hahaha! I am a youth worker who has worked both in the church and in afterschool programs with junior high kids… I HATE the obvious questions…. I want to say ” I DON”T KNOW WHAT WE”RE DOING DURING CHAPEL! WAIT AND SEE” I also don’t like anyone in my space, I used to have a girl (now that I think of it, multiple students) who wanted to hold my hand or always be in my space. I need a bubble people!
    That being said, I am an expert in cup rhythms. 🙂

  • Katie W says:

    Hahaha! I am a youth worker who has worked both in the church and in afterschool programs with junior high kids… I HATE the obvious questions…. I want to say ” I DON”T KNOW WHAT WE”RE DOING DURING CHAPEL! WAIT AND SEE” I also don’t like anyone in my space, I used to have a girl (now that I think of it, multiple students) who wanted to hold my hand or always be in my space. I need a bubble people!
    That being said, I am an expert in cup rhythms. 🙂

  • marko says:

    love this post. totally cracked me up.

  • marko says:

    love this post. totally cracked me up.

  • Steven says:

    I have to say that there isn’t much about junior high students that I don’t love except the smell. Now I can handle their average aroma but it’s the camp stench that can knock me down to my knees. A week of unsupervised hygiene plus daily physical competition in extreme summer heat can add up to a toxic combination. It’s even worse when you’re the one who has to take the culprit aside (gag) and give them the Old Spice gospel.

  • Kevin Patterson says:

    You can handle the ‘camp smell’ one. Channel your inner Major Payne and bring a garden hose and Ajax to camp. Then say ‘In two days if any of you smell like a foot, I will hose you down and scrub your first layer of skin off!’ *looks around* or is that just me?

  • Don Broad says:

    Unfortunately, I know the “camp smell” all too well. After a week of Workcamp, the guys room starts to smell like sweat, dirty clothes, dried paint, and damp Skittles that were sent in a “care package” from some well-meaning mom. Ahhhhh Workcamp…

    • Kurt Johnston says:

      Concerning smells, it’s the effort to “freshen” the cabin with regular doses of Axe Body Spray that kills me…

  • Chris Kaz says:

    Literally just got back from a middle school camp yesterday. The stupid cup game was played. They also think its hilarious to throw water at any adult in sight. My biggest annoyance is the obvious. Their attention span. We go into a deep spiritual time and I have about 5 minutes before we start talking about farts, and they start fake sneezing just to get some attention, or what my kids did all of camp…talk in British accents for 5 days straight.

    Gotta love youth ministry!

  • Scott Tinman says:

    Kurt just said it…Axe Body Spray…using this does not = taking a shower at camp or on a retreat. Also Energy Drinks should never…I mean never used as snacks or drinks to wash down nighttime meds.

    Gotta love it when packing for camp and parents get a clean bag of close when they get home…yes MS Boys you need to change your shirt

    • Leneita Fix Leneita Fix says:

      Do you know how many times I have actually said that to a JH student Scott?

      The need to eat only candy- not just a lot of it- only candy….

  • Jake Rasmussen says:

    This post is one of the BEST ever.
    Thanks for writing it.
    I’m thankful for you and the vision Jesus has given to you.


  • Chad Dillon says:


    Love this post. Such truth here. Some of you mentioned the smell at camp, or on some junior highers in general and the thing that makes me cringe goes along with this. It is when you ask if the kid has taken a shower and they respond with, “I swam.”

    Dear Junior High Student;

    Swimming in the pool is not the same as taking a shower.

    Signed, Everyone who has to smell you!

    • KJ says:

      I’m at JH camp this week and can say with integrity that NONE of your comments have been exaggerations! Yowza.

  • Chris Kaz says:

    Has anyone ever realized that when Junior Higher’s parents give them money, they have to spend every penny of it. “If we put our money together, we have $1.07, what can we get for $1.07? You want to split an otter pop?”

  • Jason Domingo says:

    Wow. Nailed it Kurt. Although it makes me want to approach you from behind and put my hands over your eyes the next time I see you at a conference.

    Reading each one of those…a specific student’s face pops into my brain! As much as what they did annoyed me…it’s amazing how grateful I still am that God put them in my care!

    Here’s a few:

    Youth Group:
    – The one who inadvertently put me into chiropractic care by running from behind and jumping on my back.
    – The 8th grader who’s ‘too cool’ for everything you do yet still shows up…to spite me?
    – The one who “forgot” the retreat/event payment deadline despite the constant publicity and countdowns.

    – The one who on their first retreat walks out of the gas station with 2 armfuls of candy because he realized he could use the $20 his mom gave him for “fast food meals on the way there and back” to load up on junk and mom wasn’t there to tell him ‘no.’
    – The student who somehow has to pee again 20 minutes after leaving a rest stop.
    – The kid who upon arriving at camp has to pull out everything from his bag to find to locate one shirt he has to wear and half of the room is littered with his clothes the rest of the week.
    – The kid who won’t own up to the towel or pair of boxers in the cabin at the end of the week.
    – The one who somehow loses his notebook and is looking for it at the end of every chapel.
    – The kid who blew all his money on the way to camp and tells you that he has no money for food on the way home from camp but “doesn’t know why.”
    – The kid named Jared who tells all the other kids to see what happens when everyone poops in one toilet for the weekend without flushing but then uses the other toilet to wipe and flush.

    – Public restroom toilets that automatically flush prematurely. Public toilet water spray all over the rear. Had to have been invented by a lazy Jr. Higher.

    25 years kurt! Congrats! You’ve been doing Jr. High since I was 6. Here’s to 25 more! You got this!

  • Todd says:

    I’d have to say that Axe Body Spray is at the top of my list, followed by energy drinks.

    My biggest pet peeve though has to be students who think you want a hug from them after they’ve been swimming and you haven’t, or you’ve changed into dry clothes already, and they’re still soaking wet.

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