In “True Confessions of a Total Goofball, Part I”, we heard two goofy boys share the reality behind what sets them off, how their classmates see them and how adults react to their silly antics. Read on for more insight from these teens on the real scoop on your class clowns!
What advice would these teens give to adults and leaders who are trying to work with middle school goofballs?
“Realize that I’m really immature. Be strict–don’t be afraid to hurt my feelings. I need you to lay the law down for me. I need rules, and I need punishment,” says Jake. “Whenever I do something wrong, I know it, and I generally feel scared and know I need to straighten up right away.”
As Joey says, “If you plan engaging activities where we won’t get bored, like activities where we’re building something or drawing something, not just watching a video or talking, I’m more likely to actually pay attention and focus.”
Of course, we as youth leaders can practice “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) as we guide our precocious middle schoolers through these formative years. Jake shares, “You don’t need to be a jerk about it, but don’t be afraid to enforce rules and expectations with me.”
Jake readily admits, “There’s a misconception of me as a goofball that I am constantly trying to make people like me. That’s not true. I know people like me for who I am, and I also know that I’ll grow up and grow out of my immaturity. This ‘nonsense destructive stage’ will end eventually. But I’m still going to have fun and quote movies and be a normal person–just with a stronger sense of humor than your average person.”
Interestingly, Joey agrees. “The more mature I become, the less I’ll be a goofball–but it’ll never go away completely. It’s always going to be with me, but it’ll be a smaller part of me. I picture myself sitting in a cubicle someday, cracking jokes and making fun of things–but not in quite the same way I do now.”
When asked how the now-high school teens would handle the middle-school aged versions of themselves in youth group, both paused for thought.
“I think I would probably confront the younger version of me, and explain that while I understand you’re having fun, you can’t disrupt others,” said Jake. “I would also make sure to be clear that there are punishments for my continued bad behavior. I need boundaries. And I need someone to punish me when I cross those boundaries.”
Joey’s take is practical, as well. “I’d make sure I was doing what I was supposed to, but having fun with it. I’d make sure that what I make the younger version of me do is appropriate for my attitude and that it’s fun, but that there’s nothing distracting around. If I have to take items away, playing the ‘Behavior Game’ as I take items one-by-one, I’d do it.”
So, what’s the most important thing for a leader to keep in mind as they work with goofballs?
According to Jake, “Have a sense of humor, but let me know that you’re in charge. Don’t expect me to listen to you if you just throw out meaningless threats. I need accountability, and I need a leader that can stand up to me and have a backbone.”
Joey advises leaders to get to know their goofballs and seek to understand them. “As a leader, it’s important to keep in mind that your students are their own person. Make sure that your expectations are appropriate for me–for instance, you wouldn’t want to put an irresponsible goofball with infants. But if you understand that I’m a social person, that social outlets are perfect for me–you can assign me activities and jobs that I can fulfill socially.”
As much of a handful as your goofballs can be, however, the Holy Spirit still impacts their lives in tremendous ways.
“My youth leaders were definitely a huge part of my life,” says Jake. “In middle school, there was a lot of tough stuff to handle–drugs, sex, temptations–and I know that my youth leaders were a lifeline for me. I looked forward to going to church and participating in youth nights every single week. I was able to be friends with my leaders, and I knew that youth nights weren’t the only nights I could rely on them, that they cared about me all the time.”
What sort of effect does middle school ministry have on even your goofiest teens? As Jake explains, “Through middle school ministry, I learned that you may think that you’ve seen it all spiritually–that God isn’t so great, that you don’t need Him in your life–but you haven’t seen it all. There’s a bigger picture out there, and we have a God who is really at work.”
To Joey, middle school was a time of learning godly discipline. “Being involved in middle school ministry taught me how to control myself more and think through my decisions and actions. If I was going to be goofy, I learned how to not hurt someone–a more Christian attitude. I learned how to be a goofy Christian, per se.”
Both Jake and Joey had powerful faith experiences in middle school.
“My relationship with Jesus has grown so much, even through the simplest devotions and Bible verses we discussed, which spoke to my life in ways that sermons couldn’t always do,” Jake says. “Through middle school ministry at my church, I came to realize that Christ is my Savior, and that I can share that with everyone I meet.”
Joey agrees, adding, “I grew in my relationship with Jesus, and I met a lot of good Christian friends–we were able to spend a lot of time together. I learned how Jesus died on the cross for us, and how God loves us enough to send Him to us. I now see God as real family, Someone I can talk to without any hesitation.”
I’ve been privileged to see these two goofballs mature into high school students and become young evangelists, serving together in leadership in a homeless ministry and starting creative ministries such as their “mall outreach”, where they weekly gather students together to walk through the local malls, regularly meeting store employees and customers, praying with them, and sharing the hope of Jesus with them. As Joey says, “It’s pretty amazing. Sometimes mall workers get transferred, but in the three or four weeks we are able to connect, we’re able to read the Bible with them and talk about it with them.”
Through this mall ministry, Joey has seen God work in incredible ways. “We met several atheists once, and we talked to them for a long time. We encouraged them to get into the Bible and read it, and eventually two of them became Christians and now attend our church.”
As Jake explains, “I’ve been a goofball for a long time, but I feel so blessed that I’m not shy with people. I can go up to anyone and talk to them now about my faith. I’ve gone downtown with our homeless ministry and talked with junkies, and I’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work.”
So, in those moments when you’re pulling your hair, trying to keep your biggest goofballs from jumping off furniture and eating your object lessons, remember all this insight from these two goofballs. They may not be able to keep their sarcastic comments to themselves, but Scripture and the message of Christ’s forgiveness and love can still soak into their hearts.
And remember, too, that their faith is as vitally important as anyone else’s–even if they’re trying to throw Bibles through the basketball hoop.