Youth Ministry is an essential part of the church today. Over the years, the adolescent has been identified in several different ways, changing his/her reputation with each new generation. This, in turn, has impacted Christian education and the styles approached and presented in youth groups. The study of adolescence is constantly shifting, but evidence suggests that beliefs, values, and habits taught early on will prove to guide youth into adulthood with the capabilities and desire to continue in a relationship with God.
The transition from childhood to adolescence brings about major change physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. This change has been viewed as negative and difficult by youth themselves, as well as those in their environment. “…Adolescence has unfortunately been perceived as a problematic period of the human life span that youth, their families, and society has to endure” (Santrock 12). But where did this view come from? The stereotypes have abounded more and more, yet the source cannot be identified. In this present age of adolescence, rushing to adulthood doesn’t seem to be the case which impacts the way we go about youth ministry.
Junior High ministry is often overlooked in the church as educators focus on the younger children and older teenagers. This is a transition period in which no one really wants to be involved with or give these students a chance to discover who they are. “Adolescence is not a time of rebellion, crisis, pathology and deviance for a large majority of youth. It is far more accurate to see adolescence as a time of evaluation, of decision making, of commitment, and of carving out a place in the world” (Santrock 15). In ministry, this is the light bulb that needs to go off in each youth workers head as a realization of the importance of a relationship with God early in life. Beginning to build up a youth group with junior high students is most beneficial because it carries on into the future and further develops the structure of senior high ministry.
Research indicates that during puberty, a child goes through many physical and mental changes that affect behavior and moods. Parents, siblings, and even church workers are frustrated by these changes. The key factor to remember, however, is that this is a period of discovery for adolescence, a prime tool to foster spiritual growth. No longer does the structured Sunday school setting matter to these students; they need to experience Christ’s love in their own lives and relationships. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
With age, youth mature and begin to make the transition from adolescent to adult. While knowledge expands, social settings and behaviors become much more significant. By the time a student has reached his/her junior or senior year of high school, he/she has a stable environment of friends, cliques, activities, sporting events, etc… Therefore, in a youth group setting, strong spirituality must be established early on. If the attention of a junior high student can be grasped, the trend is likely to become a willing attitude that desires a relationship with God.
Ministry in this area cannot happen on its own, rather the involvement of teachers is essential. “Youth workers must lead with theology, following with developmentally appropriate and sensitive philosophies and programs” (Clark 42). In addition, at this age, parents play a key role by being involved despite feelings of anxiety and isolation from their own children. If parents can continue to guide a child’s spiritual growth, youth will understand the commitment in the future.
The most important aspect of all the research, opinions, and experience is that youth see the reality and practicality God brings to their lives. If youth workers can get excited about junior high ministry, it will attract kids and continue them on their path through adolescence and beyond. Knowing and understanding youth at the different growth stages shows them that the adults in their lives do care and can be trusted (Clark 44). At a time when hormones let loose and self-esteem dwindles, confidence and belief in what a child is capable of will encourage youth in their pursuits. First Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in live, in love, in faith and in purity.” The odds may be against them, but with a little guidance and pursuit of discovery, young adolescents will strengthen their commitment to a relationship with God and share his love in their own surroundings.
Clark, Chap. “Youth Ministry in an Age of Delayed Adulthood.” Youthworker. November/December 2000.
Santrock, John W. Adolescence: Ninth Edition. McGraw Hill, 2003.