Somewhere between the gorilla house and the exotic birdcage at your local zoo should be a building dedicated to Jr. High Youth. Every two hours, the zoo keepers (otherwise known as youth leaders) would toss a large cheese pizza, package of Skittles® and a soda (of which only two sips would be consumed) into the cage. The boy animal in cage 2 would be “dating” the girl animal in cage 17 because the girl animal in cage 13 set it up. Jr. High Youth activists would complain about the inhumanity of caging such special creatures, so zoo executives would invest millions of dollars creating the most natural environment for the Jr. High House. Laptops, cell phones, game systems, portable MP3 players with headphones, and a plasma television would be a fixture in every enclosure. Of course, zoo souvenirs would include “I saw a Jr. High Youth–and survived!” t-shirts and plush, stuffed replicas would sell at top dollar.
Although I firmly believe in creation over evolution from a spiritual viewpoint, the Jr. High student HAS evolved over the last decade. Ten years ago, the greatest challenge for youth leaders was note passing during a Bible study. Now, keeping the kids from sending a text message via cell phone has become the new obstacle. Remember when you would pay full price for every camper to attend a retreat? Now you pay a higher “boys” fee and a lower “girls” fee because, let’s face it, the girls don’t eat. It seems that even side salads are too fattening, these days.
But for all their quirks and idiosyncrasies, I love working with Jr. High youth. Trapped somewhere between a child and a teenager is this unique creature. Find any adult leader in the country and we all agree: from children’s ministry to senior high ministry, every individual needs love and acceptance, forgiveness and support. Children know they need this: “Mold me, shape me, and help me grow.” Sr. high students, for the most part, know they need this; in the next decade, they will make the most important decisions in their lives. Therefore they are more open to a youth leader’s guidance. Jr. High youth are a completely different story.
Mr. Curt Jungkuntz (
IL), a Lutheran school 7th grade teacher and foremost expert on jr. high ministry, stated of Jr. High students, “They wanna do what they wanna do when they wanna do it. Your priorities mean nothing to them. Adults were created only to ignore and to drive them to soccer practice. They want you to just leave them alone.”
Jr. High youth constitute a group that needs an enormous amount of encouragement, care and guidance, but they don’t know it or care to admit it. This fact makes Jr. High ministry a specific mission field to itself. Those who are actively and purposefully involved in Jr. High Ministry find themselves less in a ministry of €love€ and more in a ministry of passion and intentional purpose. I am passionate about working with Jr. High students and revealing to them the intense love of Jesus Christ even if they won’t admit that they learned anything until Senior High. To be involved in Jr. High ministry means to provide concentrated guidance to a group begging for intense independence. It’s hard and often thankless work, but somebody has to do it.
So get a season pass to the zoo, visit the Jr. High House often. Ignore the signs that read, “Please do not feed the animals,” and lob as much spiritual food into each cage as you can. Chances are good that something will ultimately be consumed.