Jr. High and Sr. High Ministry: A Conversation

Tell us who you are and what you do.

Leon:  I am Leon Jameson and I serve as Minister to Youth and Families at Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Charles. I have been serving youth for over a decade now (yowza) and I love this calling. I am happiest when spending time with my wife Gretchen and my daughter Sydney Grace. When away from ministry you can find me riding on my lawn tractor, wrestling with my Golden Retriever Bailey, and collecting M&M dispensers.

Oh… and I also work with Alaina. She is a dork.

Alaina:  I’m Alaina. I serve in ministry with Leon at Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Charles. I work in children’s and junior high ministries. I’ve served in youth ministry for three years. When I’m not busy with youth ministry things, I am usually reading or writing or thinking. However, I am not a dork.

Mainly because I have good taste in music and food.

Leon:  Food and music I can’t pronounce…maybe because I am old…ouch…let’s move on!

Explain some of the various developmental changes that occur during Junior High and Senior High.

Leon:  Generally speaking adolescence is a time of transition–physically, emotionally, socially, mentally, spiritually. Teenagers are moving from childhood to adulthood in all areas of their lives.

Alaina:  Junior high youth are experiencing an extremely volatile time in their development. Their bodies are changing at the most rapid pace of change since their early years of life. With the bodily change come lots of great things like growing pains and body odor.

Leon:  Oh, yes…I agree with Alaina, the boys can smell. Especially when you are in a cabin with them overnight!

High School students have an innate desire to gain their own identity separate from parents, teachers, and churches. This is normal and quite healthy.

Alaina:  I think there is a dramatic social change that begins in junior high and carries into high school: THE CLIQUE.

Leon:  Ahh, THE CLIQUE! Adolescents are without a doubt relational in perspective. The world of the teenager is oriented around relationships or the lack of relationships. And part of the “relational world” of the teenager involves the family. And the teenage years are often seen as a time that teens struggle with their families. This struggle often comes from an adolescent’s self-discovery of how their lives intersect (or collide) with those of their families’.

Alaina:  In some ways, the clique helps that identity formation along. It provides some stability away from parents, teachers, churches. In other ways, those social clusters, especially in 6th and 9th grades–the years of transition–are highly volatile. I find that cliques are comfort food for JHers, what about you, Leon?

Leon:  Comfort food. I could go for some lasagna right now…. I think some high school students find comfort in being part of a clique, but not all. During the later years of high school more and more students begin to think apart from the “group.”

Tell me more about some of the faith processes.

Alaina:  Adolescent faith development is a lot about making sense of the facts and figures of faith that students picked up during their childhood years. Or in the case of unchurched youth, making sense of their preconceptions and helping them see faith from a different perspective.

Leon:  I think that teenagers today are losing hope. And that, in my opinion, is a spiritual challenge for the church today. Studies show that growing numbers of teenagers are feeling more and more hopeless. These years of spiritual formation are ripe opportunities for students to learn about a God who wants the very best for their lives. In God’s Word and through the Sacraments The Hope is shared with a nation filled with hopelessness.

Alaina:  I don’t think junior highers have fully realized the darkness of the world, yet. Some have, but they keep it to themselves.

Leon:  I think you are right.

The challenge then comes in helping students merge their “childlike” faith and wonder with the harshness of a sinful world. Not an easy task for any age.

Alaina:  I spend a lot of time preparing students for the darkness. Equipping them with the knowledge, tools, and confidence in Christ (through the Word and Sacraments, right on, Leon!) to be ready for the things that come with high school.

Leon:  I hear so often from the high school students I work with that “living a Christian life in a teenagers world is almost impossible.” Want to know how I respond?

Alaina:  Yeah, because I would have a hard time not being cynical in response.

Leon:  I respond, “Good thing you’re not alone.” Then I remind them, by the power of the Holy Spirit, when we come to realize that Jesus is the Light and we are also called to be like lights, and to walk in the light, we discover the importance of being set apart and recognize the desperation that lives within the darkness.


As the Soup Nazi would say, “NEXT”!

Were you even born when Seinfeld was on? hee hee

Alaina:  HUSH. I was, but he was old hat.

What is it that makes Junior High and Senior High youth so fun to work with?

Alaina:  High schoolers take themselves too seriously. Junior highers still know how to sing, dance, and act like kids! It’s no coincidence that my 7th graders regularly request to sing songs called “I like Bananas” and “The Chihuahua Song.” They love being silly, which is good because I have a very well hidden silly side.

Leon:  High schoolers can be a bit serious…but when they feel safe they can be as silly as clowns making balloon animals!

I love the “aha!” moments! When a student discovers something new about themselves, or about faith, or about what Jesus meant when He said the “first shall be last and the last shall be first.” I also love seeing students mature into leaders. Leaders in their schools, church, and community. We are truly blessed to work with students!

Alaina:  “Aha!” moments are pretty amazing. They happen for junior high students when we create moments of quiet pauses in prayer with God. I love seeing a student ponder what faith means and ask difficult questions about their faith. It means the Spirit is stirring within them and reminds me of the stirring the Spirit does in my own life.

Leon:  You know students in general move so fast…gosh, life moves so fast…we don’t take enough time to Be Still and Know He is God. Good work, Ms. Kleinbeck. Way to “pause” with students and teach them the value of being still.

You know, some people think that a servant event to Idaho with 50 high school students and adults is a “vacation!”

Alaina:  Hey, you do bring back some pretty awesome pictures and stories. That sounds like vacation to me.

Leon:  I could use a vacation. With a clown making balloon animals…

Alaina:  I’d like to see the pictures from that vacation.

Leon:  …while I sing the I Like Bananas song.

Alaina:  I’ll teach you the Chihuahua Song later…its more fun.

Leon:  Yo quiero Taco Bell!

Since you are at the same church, your mission and goals are the same; how are your methods different?

Alaina:  Leon and I have very different personalities and thus very different styles in ministry, but our mission and goals are very much aligned. Fortunately, our personalities and ministry styles also align with our ministry focus. God did a pretty good job working that one out.

Leon:  I think what gives us freedom in our methods is that we are both committed to our mission and goals. Together we seek to reach all youth, to connect them with other Christians, to help them grow in their faith, and to challenge them to discover their ministry and honor God with their life.

Alaina:  Good one! I think a good contrast in our methods is in the way we do servant events. Leon takes the foundational experiences that I create and builds skyscrapers on top of them.

Leon:  On servant events I look to move high school students through experiences that take them out of their comfort zone. I believe we grow the most when we are a bit uncomfortable.

Alaina:  We do that in simpler and smaller ways on the junior high servant event.

Leon:  Alaina establishes a foundation in junior high students so they trust our ministry. With this trust built, although they may be a bit uncomfortable, they are willing to take the steps.

You both held ministry bonfires during the fall season, describe the differences.

Leon:  My fire was bigger.

Alaina:  Whatever.

Leon:  More wood, more graham crackers, more marshmallows, more chocolate.

Alaina:  Only because your boys are big and burly. My boys are still scrawny and are only there to throw paper plates in the fire.

Junior high bonfires only last as long as you have s’mores and songs to sing. As soon as its over and the paper plates have all been burned, they are chasing each other around with sticky marshmallow hands and asking when it will be time to go.

Leon:  The high school guys are there to help start the fire, burn paper plates, and swing about flaming marshmallows in the air. (Kind of like sparklers at Forth of July). Oh, and they also like girls.

High School youth love the chance to socialize around the fire. They share stories, girls cry, they look for shooting stars. They would sit around a fire all night if they could. But I get tired.

Alaina:  Girls cry?

Leon:  Yes they cry. You are a girlis it the smoke?

Alaina:  I have no idea. Junior high girls don’t cry. They huddle in a group and jibber jabber, occasionally sending a messenger to the boys’ group.

Leon:  Actually it is probably prompted from the devotion time, prayers, and life sharing. There is something about a fire that will stir teenagers to open up and share, laugh, cry, and sing! I bet the JH boys are daring one another to walk through or jump the fire!

Alaina:  It’s cool to see how the youth’s development changes their appreciation of bonfires. Devotions at junior high bonfires are shorter to keep their attention, but as they are older, they start to linger more and enjoy the contemplative nature of the outdoors and fire.

Leon:  Amen. God has created us in amazing ways.

Alaina:  But one thing doesn’t change…the senior high boys are probably still daring each other to jump through the fire and burn stuff just like the younger guys.

Leon:  Yeah, I actually join them. You should see the fire I jumped over last summer!

Alaina:  Because THAT’S not a liability. 😉

Leon:  Do as I say not as I do. 🙂

Just joking, I am too old to jump fires anymore.

To finish things off, how do your ministries enhance one another?

Alaina:  I think we are blessed to have a ministry that is unified in vision. Leon and I want the same thing for each youth, for each area of ministry. The goals and mission don’t change because the youth grow up and like sitting around a fire longer. We spend a lot of our youth ministry meeting times looking for ways to bridge the gap between the junior high and senior high experiences.

Leon:  Alaina does a brilliant job providing JH students spiritual experiences. She provides them opportunities to laugh. She challenges them to ask questions about faith and life. She prompts them to be still and listen (really listen) to what God has shared for their lives in His Word. She models what it means to be a Christ-like servant.

Alaina does the hard work. She keeps the attention and connects JH students to our ministry. She serves as the “front door.” I love her work because I inherit students who are mature and ready for the next level.

Alaina:  We both have sending ministries. I am lucky because I get to see the next step, Leon’s sending requires a lot more faith and trust in God’s care as they often leave our congregational ministries to attend college, join the military, and begin careers. Leon is a master sender. He challenges the youth out of their comfort zones and sends them into life preparing for ministries as Christian adults. They feel connected to his ministry and they come back to serve alongside him or they carry the torch to their new church home.

Leon:  I have done some JH ministry. It takes someone who has a BIG heart, someone who is a little peculiar, and someone who is passionate in sharing how much Jesus makes a difference.  Alaina has a BIG heart…she is definitely peculiar…and I know she is passionate about Jesus. Sounds like a good fit for JH ministry!

She also understands developmentally what makes JH students unique and gifted in God’s Kingdom.

Alaina:  It’s fun to see my younger youth get excited for Leon’s ministries and then watch Leon shape and mold them into young adults who are passionate for their faith. Leon has a great compassion for hurting teens and families. The high school youth see him as wise, caring, and without judgment. That’s an important thing for senior high youth as the depth of their pain often goes beyond what they experience in junior high. He takes a lot of time for individual youth that need a faithful listener.

Leon:  I think we also have a bigger picture of lifelong ministry. We realize we have the privilege of connecting with students for a short period of time in their life. It is our prayer that we can help them to walk in faith throughout every life passage.

Alaina:  Amen to that!

Leon:  And students at all ages are just plain fun.

Alaina:  Also, Leon is a tech-nerd that fixes my audio/visual woes for me. He’s awfully patient.

Leon:  I like tech stuff…but I don’t cook, Alaina does that. I order pizza when my wife is out of town.

Pizza…wow, God knew what he was doing when he called me to youth ministry.

Alaina:  Seriously, lots of pizza in youth ministry. That doesn’t change. Two things for every youth ministry, junior high or senior high: pizza and Jesus.

Leon:  Couldn’t say it better myself.


Published December 8, 2008

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