5 Keys to Understanding Faith Development in Middle School Students

As a former Middle School Pastor, I have to laugh at the antics of middle school students sometimes.  Mostly, they are a lot of fun to be around.  However, over the years I have heard things from long time youth ministry veterans that bother me like, “The problem is, they are not human yet”.  Another one I’ve heard is, “Your job is to entertain them until they get to high school, so we can have real conversations”.  God gives me the grace to ponder such thoughts without absorbing unintended condescension toward those who dedicated their lives to serve middle school students and their families.

(Photo by Thriving Ink at Creative Commons)

(Photo by Thriving Ink at Creative Commons)

When I looked beyond such over-stated view points, it causes me to ponder the ministry to which I had dedicated many years of my life.  Engaging middle school students with the gospel and the kingdom of God is no small task.  Middle school students are different from high school students, and often challenging to reach with the gospel if you do not understand them.

Here are five keys to understanding middle school students and their faith:

  •  They find comfort in the “concrete” – Ask questions that require them to report what they know and observe from personal experience.  Ask them to report about trends, favorite things, difficulties, temptations, school, family, activities, friendships, moral perceptions, habits, and more. This plays to their strength and causes them to feel competent.  When middle school students feel competent, you have their attention to integrate biblical truth into life.
  • They respond to high expectations – I am not talking about behaving in church or obeying rules on outings (though helpful).  I am talking about vision. If you lead out in a clear, Christ centered, concrete, and compelling vision, they will follow. They are people of action.  They won’t get it right every time, but neither did Jesus’ disciples.  So, go for it and expect great things!
  • They thrive on biblical narrative – There may be no better time in adolescence to teach the life of Jesus than the middle school years.  Since they are keen observers and find strength in reporting facts, consider leaning heavily into the narrative of the biblical gospels.  Use biblical narratives as “case studies” to interpret personal faith, real life issues, and moral dilemmas.  This foundation will serve them well in their faith formation.
  • They share life through activity – High school students may enjoy a semi-planned or spontaneous activity around a BBQ with friends in your home (or one of theirs).  Not so with middle school students.  They share life through planned, timed, and well designed activities.  They also share life best in groups.  Sameness and familiarity bring relational security.
  • They know what love is – As image bearers of God, they have an innate capacity to feel love and acceptance.  If you communicate relentless acceptance, pastoral care, and belief in them, your ministry will successfully reflect Christ.  Your words will carry weight!

Question – In your experience, which one of these keys is most important?  Why?

(PS–This is a guest post by Chris Thatcher–a regular contributor here. This is part 6 of a series on YOUR Students–An Inside Look. Click here for the rest of the series.)

 

  • Samarpana Rani

    Awesome Rob…

  • Chris, I agree with the activity one. I have found that activity greases the wheel for relationship and interaction. Sitting over a cup if coffee or even a smoothie is too intense for a middle school student. Put a football or a Nerf gun in their hands, then you’ve got a great primer for conversation!

    Great list! Thanks!!

  • Chris, I like your thoughts about leading out with vision. I’ll always remember the maturity and hunger for God and His Word that your Middle School students have displayed when I’m around them. When I spoke at your retreat years ago, your middle schoolers displayed a maturity and zeal that most high school ministries would be jealous to have.

  • Chris

    Rob and Jeremy, Thanks for your insights. What a blessing!

  • Lori

    Thank you so much for putting up those five things. It pains me when ministers and teachers fail to understand the religious potential of the Children.

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