First off, I realize this title may be the most obvious declaration in the history of column-writing. But I need constant reminding of this simple truth: Junior high ministry is about junior highers, not about me.
Let me paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, who said, “When I write a speech, I spend 75 percent of my time thinking about what the audience wants to hear and 25 percent thinking about what I want to say.” He understood that good communication starts with what interests the listeners. Let’s think about that truth related to three areas of junior high ministry:
• Small groups—Instead of considering what you like in a small group, start by thinking about where junior highers are at developmentally. Then design groups that appeal to them, even if you’d never want to attend yourself. After all, the groups aren’t for you.
• Lessons—You might be interested in learning how Mosaic law influences postmodern views of eschatology, but that doesn’t mean sixth-graders will share that passion. Also avoid the temptation to “share what the Lord’s been teaching me this week.” Not only is that lazy ministry, but God probably wants to teach the room full of young teenagers something different from what he’s teaching you in your quiet time.
• Games and activities—I confess: I don’t love pizza. Nor am I very good at dodgeball. And I’d be content to never again plunge face-first into oatmeal hoping to find the Tootsie Roll before my seventh-grade opponent can. But the kids I’ve dedicated the best years of my life to love this stuff. And, to a large degree, they need it as part of their early-adolescent experience.
I’ve heard well-meaning leaders try to “adultize” each of these ministry staples. “Our small groups should be more intimate.” Really? Or do you just assume junior high small groups should be as intimate as those for adults? “Our lessons need to be deeper.” Perhaps you’re simply tired of teaching at a junior high level. “Our kids don’t like fun and games.” That’s odd, because I’ve never met an entire group that would agree. But I’ve met lots of adults who’ve outgrown fun and games and project that onto their ministry settings.
I’m so thankful you’re devoting time and energy to this fascinating age level. When you feel like doing ministry how you’d like to do it, though, just remember: Junior high ministry is for junior highers.