“Ah junior high, those are the years I’d love to forget!” That’s a sentence I’ve heard from more than a few adults through the years. It’s a joke that adults LOVE to throw out there because it plays to the idea that junior high is such a hard time for many adults.
Instead of forgetting their junior high years, I’ve found that the best junior high youth workers have tapped into their memories as a source of fuel for their ministry. You’ll often hear them say, “Junior high was hard for me and I want to be there for the kid like me who didn’t have anyone.”
That’s why having a strong sense of “junior high memory” is key for every great junior high youth worker. Why? Because improving your own memory of what it was like to be their age gives you better empathy. What junior high students need is more adults who have empathy for them.
Memory and Empathy
Empathy allows us to see a junior high student’s world through their eyes. It allows us to “feel with” them. When we begin to put ourselves in our students’ shoes, our desire to come alongside them increases. We remember just how hard a breakup is to go through. We remember how confusing it is to navigate friendships. We remember what it was like to feel that a teacher had it in for us. We also remember how hard it was to have parents telling you what to do all the time.
Empathy isn’t just a great practice, it’s also Jesus’ model of ministry. When Jesus stepped into our world “he made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14). Jesus experienced all that humanity had to offer so that he could be a sympathetic servant. It’s what makes Jesus unique among all other religious figures, as the God-man, he could translate the divine into human terms.
So, if we are going to translate the love of Jesus into a junior higher’s world, we need to improve our “junior high memory.”
Improving Your “Junior High Memory”
As a junior high pastor, I regularly had my leaders take a jog down memory lane. I would ask them questions that helped them remember what their early teen years were like. The result was a greater sense of empathy for our students. Here are some of the questions I would ask:
Who were your best friends? What was that relationship like?
What were you most afraid of?
What teacher did you like the most? The least?
Who did you have a crush on? Why?
What were you confident in? The least?
Who was the biggest source of conflict for you?
What was your relationship like with your parents?
What memory from your junior high years has the biggest impact in you as an adult?
Asking these kinds of questions will increase empathy and unlock more ministry effectiveness from your leaders because your junior high students will start to feel loved and understood in a whole new way. So instead of letting your leaders forget their junior high years, you must help them retain their junior high memory.