Scott Rubin is the director of Elevate, Willow Creek Community Church’s Junior High Ministry. He has 15 years of experience in middle school ministry, and he has authored several great books on how to work with students in this age group. In this YS Idea Lab, Scott breaks down some of the things that have helped him throughout his tenure as a middle school pastor.
If you don’t have time to watch the full interview, here are a few of my favorite tips Scott shared:
Be comfortable with awkward.
Scott charged us to be more comfortable with the awkwardness of middle school ministry than the students are. If caring adults don’t react negatively to all the oddities of 12-year-olds, then the students will know that the middle school ministry is a safe place for them. Remember that you were once an awkward 12-year-old, too.
Middle school is the era of firsts.
Take a look at your seventh grade yearbook and try to remember all the milestones you encountered that year. For many of our students, middle school isn’t just when they start to physically change, it’s also when they first begin to understand their identities outside of their parents. Prepare for milestone moments, such as the following:
- Questions about puberty.
- The first overnight trip, mission trip, or camp without their parents.
- First boyfriend or girlfriend relationships.
- Personal affirmations of faith.
- Transitions from elementary school into middle school.
- Transitions from middle school into high school.
Get to know students through the eyes of their parents.
Scott pointed out that sometimes parents get the sense that youth workers want them to be more hands-off when their students reach middle school. But parents can be a huge help to youth workers who are trying to care for middle school students. After all, a student’s parent will know him or her better than any youth worker will. Communicate with and partner with parents in order to help meet students’ needs. You’ll learn more than you could on your own, and you’ll help equip parents to care for the spiritual needs of their children.
Let middle school students educate you.
Sometimes we feel as if we need to know every cultural reference or we won’t be able to relate to students. But Scott said that students love to explain things to interested adults. If a student references a Netflix show, an Instagram star, or a musical artist you don’t know, it’s a perfect moment for you to let them teach you.
Middle school ministry is a long-term view.
Like all of youth ministry, discipling and mentoring students is a marathon. It’s important to keep the long-term view in perspective. You’ll have moments when you feel as things aren’t progressing or that you can’t get through to students. In those moments, try to see the long-term impact you’re hoping to make in their lives. If you’re fortunate enough to be in the same community for the next 10 years, you’ll have many stories of awkward students who become incredible men and women of God. Those stories can be the fuel that keeps you going even in the most difficult moments of middle school ministry.