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Last year I started a new position in a new church community. One of the things I had observed right off the bat as I was evaluating the culture was how noisy and rambunctious this particular group of students were. Don’t get me wrong, this can easily describe many groups of students (especially middle schoolers!). However, I was taken aback with how often the adult volunteers would stop everything to yell at individual students.

It was kind of like watching a game of whack-a-mole with the students. A leader would shout at a student to get them to behave or be quiet, but right when that was going on, two more would pop up and start being rowdy. This cycle seemed to never end.

I’m going to bet that if you’ve been in junior high ministry for any length of time, you’ve experienced this kind of night (or nights). Let’s be honest though for a moment, if we’re ministering to middle school students, shouldn’t we be expecting them to act like middle school students?

It’s easy to allow the frustration to build up within us in these situations, and we often feel like there’s not much we can do. I’m more than positive my own youth pastor felt this way about me when I was in junior high. I was the student who made fart noises during worship or told a joke as loud as possible during the message. Looking back, however, I don’t remember attempting to disrespect my youth pastor or other adult volunteers. Rather, I was a junior high student desperately trying to fit in, and I did anything and everything I could think of to help me do that, even when those choices came at the expense of my youth leaders. However, despite all of that, my youth pastor walked alongside me patiently. He went on a journey with me as I grew up and matured. He helped deliver hard truths about me. In fact, it’s because of what he modeled for me during that messy time period of my life, that I’m doing ministry today.

When we understand that these middle school students are, like we all were, just trying to make their way through the mess of life, it gives us a new framework for dealing with these situations. Our goal isn’t to beat them into submission. Our role is to pace alongside of them as they navigate life.

Several months into my new job, I had a volunteer staff member ask me how I’m so patient when it comes to the craziness of our junior high students. I smiled and told him that we’ve got to expect middle schoolers to act like middle schoolers. So maybe you’re reading this today and need to be empowered to embrace the chaos rather than combating it. I believe that when we lead from this space, we’re more able to truly make an impact and help students grow into deeper maturity.

-Ryan Schmall

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you expect middle schoolers to act like middle schoolers?
  2. How do we currently deal with the rowdiness of students?
  3. What can we do to pace alongside them better?

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