Discipleship Resources

Below are new Young Life discipleship resources that can help both church and parachurch ministry leaders 1) focus and synthesize a discipleship framework, 2) generate conversations about discipleship and discipling, 3) self-reflect on their own life of discipleship, 4) envision ongoing spiritual growth in those they are discipling.

01_Deeper One Page Vertical 2.0
One-page summary of definitions, descriptions, and values.

02_Rooted in Christ 2.0
Visual metaphor of a disciple’s life.

03_Discipleship Garden and 04_Come and Go
Tools for ‘mapping’ the spiritual life and growth of those in their ministry.

05_Personal Discipleship Plan 2.0 and 06_Area Discipleship Plan
Tools for both personal and ministry discipleship goals and reflection.

00_Discipleship Tools Overview
One page summary of suggested ways to use new discipleship tools.

 

 

Purdue Football Senior Day: in which I applaud David Blough and Kirk Barron

Barron and Blough 2
The coin toss, Purdue v. THE Ohio State University – this was a Very Good Day.
[Nov 17, 2018: Purdue Football Senior Day, the final home game at Ross-Ade Stadium for all those players who graduate this December or next May. Also Day 3 of National Youth Worker’s Convention, St. Louis. In other words, my heart is divided across state lines.]

Graduation is a big deal. No more classes. No more quizzes. No more exams. No more grades. No more oral presentations. No. More. Group. Projects.

But also: no more college football. And for college football players, the final whistle of that final home game will carry a deep well of memories and experiences that can’t be weighed.

For college football fans, the final whistle of that final home game will carry its own deep well of memories and meaning, shaped by circumstances and context.

In the fall of 2017, my “ENGL 264 – Bible as Literature” roster at Purdue University included 25 amazing college students, aspiring to be nurses, engineers, teachers, managers, artists, agricultural specialists, social workers, pilots, and physical therapists.

They were, each and every one of them, wonders to behold (which is exactly how I feel about middle school students as well, an unexpected miracle of my inner-wiring bestowed upon me by my Creator).

Among those 25 wonders were two young men on the Purdue football team – a system and community that had for several years weathered what we might call turbulent times.

David Blough (#11, QB) and Kirk Barron (#53, Center) sat side by side in the far corner of my classroom on day one (far corners being prime real estate on the first day of class: from first-hand observation, I tell you that it is possible for 25 college students to all find far-corner seats in a room that has only four corners, which is a testament to their creativity and tenacity).

Having football players in one’s favorite class – when one is a hard-wired football freak and when said football team has just hired a new football coach to (in the words of King David) pull the program out from bottomless pits of miry clay – might perhaps result in Boilermaker football reascending the rungs of one’s passion-ladder (not to the very top, obviously, since the very top spots of my personal passion ladder is occupied by Narnia, Middle Earth, and napping, a reality for which I am finally old enough and content enough to offer no apologies or explanations: I read, I nap, I aspire to be Narnian and Elvish, and I love football).

As a general rule, I truly enjoy not just teaching but also knowing my students. It’s the overflow of my Young Life and youthworker self.

So last fall, I enjoyed not just teaching but also knowing 25 wondrous students, including David Blough and Kirk Barron.

After many years of not inhabiting Ross-Ade stadium on autumn Saturdays (which followed many years of faithfully inhabiting Ross-Ade stadium on autumn Saturdays), my husband and I climbed aboard the train (metaphorically) once again, attending home games, cheering on a team that was starting to emerge from the fog and find its collective feet. We did this because we knew certain players, and knowing people changes everything.

We cheered when they won, and when they lost – because there is always something to cheer (even when some refs botch calls and certain opponents are dirty rotten stinkers).

We roared with delight when face-painted fierce Barron stalked the sideline rousing his teammates and when fleet-footed fierce Blough launched breathtaking passes that connected with receivers.

We moaned with despair when Barron’s rousing roars came up short and when Blough was loaded into an ambulance with a thoroughly destroyed ankle.

We watched with joy when, after a stunning recovery and rehab by Blough, they once again both walked out to the coin toss, flanking pint-sized football fans who were special guests of honor.

We wept along with the world as they befriended, encouraged, and prayed with Tyler Trent, a young man who defies all worldly explanations of life and love and hope.

And today, we will proudly watch Barron and Blough run onto that field one last time, walk to center-field for the pregame coin toss one last time, give and take the opening snap one last time, play as a team-within-a-team one last time, and (we all hope) put up a “W” at Ross-Ade Stadium one last time.

Football is a funny thing. Some people hate it. Some people ignore it. Some people worship it. Some people bleed it. And some people simply and inexplicably love it.

I am of the latter ilk. I simply and inexplicably love football, which, being a bookish, academic, PhD-ish, theological, ministerial, Middle-Earthian, Narnian kind of person, is rather odd and unexpected.

But much of life is odd and unexpected. We can be confounded by it, or we can joyfully take it and run with it (metaphorically, that is – as a general rule and daily practice, I vehemently oppose and doggedly avoid running).

Today is a celebration for and about many people.

But these words right here are a celebration of two particular young men who in some odd and unexpected way have become “my” players for these past two years – the two players I watch most carefully on the field and on the sideline, the two I cheer for most enthusiastically, and the two I know most personally. And that last one, I would argue, is the most significant thing.

When you know people, things matter in different ways and to different degrees.

Knowing is the secret sauce of almost everything. Not knowing about, but knowing. 

know, in small ways and in small degrees, David Blough and Kirk Barron. They make me proud. They make me laugh. They are men worth knowing.

Today, I celebrate them. I hope the final whistle of this final home game brings them not just a victory but also joy, energy, excitement, anticipation, and wild hope for all that lies ahead.

 

 

 

The Tree of Life: thoughts on discipleship and roots

 

treeGrow.gif

The Bible is a book of both concrete truth and creative metaphors. God is gentle and God is a rock. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and Jesus is living water. Humans are selfish creatures and humans are branches. Yahweh is faithful and Yahweh is a shepherd. God is divine and God is a king. And metaphor within metaphor – God’s kingdom has arrived and it is a mustard seed.

As words, metaphors give shape to non-concrete realities. As images, metaphors invite us to see, discover, understand, and experience the embodied truth.

One of the most commonly mentioned things in the Bible is also one of its most powerful theological metaphors – trees. (Check out this article for more thoughts on trees in scripture.)

God’s expansive story begins with all kinds of beautiful trees, and also two very specific trees (Gen. 2:11). It ends with two healing trees of life flanking a river of living water (Rev. 22:1-2). Within the story, both God’s people and God himself are described as trees (Ps. 52:8, Hos. 14:8). Wisdom is a tree of life (Prov. 3:18). Isaiah tells trees to sing and clap their hands. Those who love, fear, and hope in Yahweh are trees planted by a riverbank (Ps. 1, Jer. 17). Those who love, trust, and follow Jesus are deeply rooted in him (Col. 2).

Deep roots, strong trunks, healthy branches, flourishing fruit, and sometimes beautiful flowers are concrete earthly realities that reflect profound spiritual truth.

Discipleship can be visualized in countless helpful ways: four chairs, a wheel, a directional triangle, a roadmap, and more.

In my new discipleship job with Young Life, I recently worked with some people to create a visual metaphor of discipleship intended to foster deep dialogue and encourage focused intentionality.

YL Rooted in Christ

(Downloadable PDF: Rooted in Christ 2.0)

The image can guide every follower of Jesus as we:

  • carefully contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in both general and specific ways
  • honestly reflect on our own personal lives of discipleship
  • prayerfully consider our discipleship hopes and desires for those in our ministries, our families, our small groups, and any other community of believers.

Here are some reflection questions and dialogue prompts to get you started:

  • How do the three main tree elements relate and work together?
    • roots – which are “time in scripture, time in prayer,” etc.
    • trunk – which is a strong core of love, trust, etc.;
    • branches – which are expressions or displays of specific behaviors and attitudes repeatedly highlighted throughout scripture
  • In your current season of life, how do engage in, experience, or express each of the different elements in the tree?
  • What specific areas (within trunk, core, branches) of your personal discipleship are most in need of attention, guidance, or challenge?
  • How can you lean into those things intentionally and purposefully?
  • What specific areas of your personal discipleship (within trunk, core, branches) do you naturally embrace and dig into? Why? What does that look like?
  • For those involved in Young Life or youth ministry, think about your specific ministry focus (WyldLife, Young Life, YoungLives, Young Life Capernaum, Young Life College) and your specific ministry context (community size, location, primary culture, specific sub-cultures, socio-economics, etc.). Based on those realities, what are your hopes and desires for your students’ growing life of discipleship? For example, what do you hope “time in scripture” will begin to look like for those in your small group of teen moms? Or how do you hope your 7th grade WyldLife Campaigner guys will begin to display “faithful witness”? And so on.
  • How will you intentionally disciple your students with these things in mind?

(A version of this article originally appeared here.)

A word about youth ministry – from 1971

The following was written by Elton Trueblood in 1971. It could have been written yesterday, today, tomorrow. It still rings true in many contexts, even as it is clearly shaped and influenced by its immediate context.

A lot was happening in the early 70s at the intersection of youth and religion. This was the era of The Way Bible (the green paperback [blue if you were Catholic] with artsy black and white photography) and the Jesus People movement; of Larry Norman, Petra, Andre Crouch, and Keith Green.

While Trueblood’s  message it timelessly prophetic, please note these two things:

  1. Many churches today have vibrant, growing, Christ-centered youth ministries where kids are challenged, discipled, fully integrated into the life of the local church, and significantly involved in and serving their local communities. Some of my dearest friends lead those ministries, and I am humbled and awed by their dedication, passion, and commitment.
  2. Many parachurch youth organizations are reaching disinterested and skeptical kids, building relationships with them, loving them, and introducing them to the Savior who desperately loves them. Some of my dearest friends lead those ministries (Young Life, WyldLife, Youth for Christ, FCA and others), and I am humbled and awed by their dedication, passion, and commitment.

Even so, there is a long way to go – as there always has been, and as there always will be. As a youth worker/WyldLife leader/historian/medievalist, I can tell you that this same conversation has been happening throughout the centuries. Preachers in the 1500s, 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s were saying and asking many of the same things found in the following excerpt, i.e. how do we relate to, embrace, invite, integrate, disciple, and raise up the next generation of radically devoted and world-changing followers of Christ?

[from The Future of the Christian, by Elton Trueblood, Harper & Row, 1971]

Young People constitute not only the greatest challenge of the church of the future, but also its greatest hope. The evidence of the probable continuance of the Church in succeeding centuries is valid, but its validity depends on the possibility of attracting a far larger proportion of young people. There is good reason to believe that this can be done, but it will not be done unless we meet the conditions. One of the conditions is an honest admission of how radically we are failing in gaining the participation of youth at the present time. There is, as anyone can see, a vast reservoir of moral idealism, a fervent eagerness to participate in liberating causes, and an almost unlimited willingness to engage in sacrifice if the cause justifies it, but, in the eyes of the majority of young people, these features of contemporary living have no connection with the church of Jesus Christ. There are of course youth programs in most congregations, and many of these are generously financed but there is little doubt that most of them are failing to do what needs to be done. The modern Church involves the very young, as it involves a fair proportion of the mature, but the failure in regard to those between these is almost total. This is what must change!

When the failure is so great, it is reasonable to look for some really serious mistake. We soon realize that such a mistake, if it exists, is probably entailed in our philosophy rather than in our methods. Actually, our methods are reasonably good. We provide excellent quarters; we establish coffee houses; we organize camps; we employ counselors. Necessary as these may be, they are grossly insufficient if we start with the wrong major premise. We begin to see how wrong our basic approach may be when we realize that most of our youth programs are set up to serve youth. The young people, of course, sense this at once. They know that others are paying for their refreshments and their entertainment. But the tragedy is that entertainment is precisely what they do not need, because it is what they already have in superabundance.

What young people need is to be needed, and to know that they are needed. If they could be convinced that the world is plagued with a sense of meaninglessness, and that they can have an answer to confusion and perplexity, their relationship to the church might be altered radically. In short, the only way to attract youth is to draw them into a ministry! They are now trying, in great numbers, to minister to physical hunger or to overcome racial discrimination, but few have been helped to see that the deepest problems of men and women are spiritual. They have not been told that the human harvest is being spoiled for lack of workers, and that they can be the workers. They have not been told of the toil in which they must engage in order to prepare their minds so that they can be effective in reaching others and particularly those of their own age, who are harassed and helpless.

The Christian faith does not need to go outside itself in order to find a principle which can produce a radical change in the attraction of young people. The principle which is effective, when seriously applied is inherent in the moral revolution which Christ came to inaugurate. There is no way to exaggerate either the theoretical or practical importance of the words, “The Son of man also came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Modern youth will not be enrolled in the Christian Cause until they are recruited as members of the servant team, ministering to the varied needs of God’s children.The motivations for this service is greater within the pattern of the church than within that of any social agency, because Christ speaks to inner as well as to outer needs. Preparation for this kind of ministry is necessarily difficult and long, but that only makes it more appealing to the best of our young people.

Though great numbers of young people are wholly outside the life of the Church at this moment, this can change rapidly, as it has changed before. In many areas the moral debacle is so great that a shift of the pendulum is almost inevitable. The obvious weakness of a permissive morality, which is ultimately self-destructive, may lead to a new Puritanism. If it is a Pruianims like that of John Milton who “was made for whatever is arduous,” that will constitute an advance of genuine magnitude. Already there are signs that this is beginning to occur, and frequently the young people are more advanced on this road than are their teachers. Some who have discovered at first hand the fact the the pseudo-gods, such as drugs and promiscuity, are fundamentally delusive, are turning, with open eyes, to the Living God.”  (pp. 36-38)

 

THANK YOU (a note to Young Life and WyldLife leaders everywhere)

I love The Church.

I love Young Life.

(Much less than I love Jesus – but true love for both, nonetheless.)

During the past 15 years, in my work as a youth ministry trainer and cheerleader, I’ve said THANK YOU to countless youth pastors – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand why you do what you do; thank you from every adult in your congregation who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who grows up under your love and guidance; thank you for ushering in the next generation of The Church with dedication, energy, creativity, and passion; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

During the past 25 years, in my role as a Young Life spouse (and other YL things), I’ve said THANK YOU to countless leaders – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand who you are and what you do; thank you from every adult in your community who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who sees and experiences the love of Jesus through you; thank you for believing that pursuing the most disinterested kid is worth your time; thank you for introducing teenagers to the God who created and loves them; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

I also offer this – a real note from a real teenager written to a real person who was doing real ministry borne out of real passion flowing from real grace abiding in Real Love.

This camper articulated what countless kids truly experience but few actually express.

It’s good to reminded why you do what you do (because there are kids who need to be seen, noticed, befriended, loved, and introduced to the Savior). It’s good to remember what this ministry is really about (Jesus and teenagers…not me or us). It’s good to close your eyes and humbly remember that thank yous – as sweet as they are – aren’t the goal or the prize (that’s Jesus – always and only Jesus).

Even so, thank yous matter: so thank you. All of you. Each of you. A thousand times over. And more.

young-life-leader-card

[Young Life camper-written notecard, c. 2010. The leader’s name has been removed – but I sent that leader a picture of this card because, oh gracious, what depth of precious and sweet grace is wrapped up in these simple 25 words?! See your name in that big white space and ask Jesus to steer you towards the kids who currently feel as this one did, because that is who we are and what we do.]

 

 

Clearwater Cove Day 0

CWC yl hands

In less than 24 hours, several hundred middle school students and leaders will descend on a sacred place in the Ozarks for the very first week of summer camp at Young Life’s Clearwater Cove.

Most of the world knows absolutely nothing about this.

But a very small sliver of the world – and all of God himself – knows very well what is about to happen here: fun, love, Jesus, grace, hope, and real life.

While much of society is bemoaning the current trends and behaviors of teenagers, twenty high school students have given up a month of their summer to willingly, enthusiastically, and joyfully serve middle school students at this sacred place nestled atop a mountain of rock. No joke. These people right here are people you should know. They are going to change the world – while they are still in HS – because they are serving the very God who made the world.

CWC work crew

In the midst of depressing headlines, deadly conflicts, and desperate situations, these twenty high schoolers (and 36 college students, and so many others) are choosing hope, life, love, joy, forgiveness, and transformation.

God does that. He gets hold of a person’s heart, flips it upside down and inside out, remakes it into something  alive, and sends it out into the wide world to be light and love, salt and sweet aromas, in order to draw others into his infinitely welcoming arms.

I don’t know what you’re doing this summer. But these folks here, and countless others like them across the US and the world, are doing something big and bold and beautiful: they are being obedient, they are being humble, they are serving, they are giving, they are considering others as more important than themselves – and because of that, God is going to do mighty things. I have no doubt.

Clearwater Cove, tucked away in a corner of God’s overwhelmingly breathtaking creation, is ready to fling wide open its doors and welcome teenagers to a week they will never forget. Gracious sakes – the work of celebration and the celebration of work have just begun, and for many people, life will never be the same again.

Five Rules for How to Use Media in Christian Education

We’ve all been there – whether planning a Sunday School lesson, a youth group meeting, or a Young Life club talk; that moment when we ask ourselves: “What video clip could really illustrate this point well, perhaps better than Scripture itself?”

It’s a deeply spiritual and philosophical question that is two-fold (when should and I use media and how should I use media) that often leads to deeply theological tangles (“Does Monty Python truly reflect the epistolary messages of Paul in their doctrinal fullness?”) that have no clear-cut answer (except in the case of Monty Python, when the answer is almost always “yes”).

To help with this distressing process of pedagogical discernment, I offer some much-needed insight from a little book I recently stumbled across:

Blackboard 1
The Blackboard in Sunday School (Henry Turner Bailey, 1899)

See here The Blackboard in Sunday School, published in 1899 – right on the heels of The Blackboard in the Sunday School, published in 1884 (because if one book about blackboard use by Christians is good, two is better).

In 1899, the blackboard was the height of advanced technology – in the church, anyway. It was pretty well established in every public and private school across the country for 50 years prior. But we do so often wait until we’re very sure that something can be used by the Lord before we appropriate it from the wicked world into our own sacred milieu.

The book opens with a properly spiritual hook, a tragic narrative about another adolescent boy gone wrong (a hooligan, a ruffian, a petty criminal), a boy who at one time had regularly attended Sunday School.

Bad boy. Bad Sunday School. Bad church. Woe unto us.

Enter: The Blackboard. (There’s a few more plot points in the narrative, but I’m condensing for ease of space and time, a strategy often used in presenting the Gospel.)

Per the author, in 1899:

“Among all the workers for the coming of the kingdom of God, none, perhaps, ought to be held in higher estimation than faithful Sunday-school teachers. As a rule they are among the busiest people in the world, every hour of the week filled with crowding duties, every volt of energy required to do that which their hands are forced to do by the conditions of our congested life. Yet these, who most need a Sabbath of rest, cheerfully devote that day to teaching, give to their classes their best thought, and patiently continue year after year a self-sacrificing service without remuneration, perhaps without a word of encouragement or appreciation.

“It would be cruel to add one straw to the burden such men and women are carrying, especially by a word of harsh or cold criticism. But sympathetic criticism is never unkind. The truth, spoken in love, and the truth only, will enable us to see ourselves and our work in clearer light and move us to self-improvement.” (24)

Then follows a long essay on why over-busy, under-appreciated, un-paid Sunday School teachers should learn how to use the blackboard.

[In fairness, the pedagogical premises in the book are solid: 1. Learning is dependent upon interest and attention; 2. Ideas must be taught by means of their appropriate objects; 3. Never tell a pupil what he may wisely be led to see for himself; 4. Proceed from the known to the related unknown; 5. Correlate with the life of the pupil.]

And then follows all a person needs to know about how to effectively use graphics and media to supplement and enliven the teaching of God’s truth.

  1. Use fonts purposefully:

blackboard fonts

2. Use emojis freely:

blackboard emojis

3. Use photo-editing judiciously:

blackboard photoshop effects

4. Use info-graphics intentionally:

blackboard infographic

5. Use visual data liberally:

blackboard visual data

Above all, remember this:

“The Sunday-school teacher who understand all mysteries and all knowledge, who speaks with the tongues of men and of artists, but who has not insight, good sense, wisdom in adapting means to ends, will fail…When the question of the week is not, ‘How shall I teach that lesson?’ but, ‘How can I find a blackboard illustration for that lesson?’ it is high time to ask another question: ‘Is it wise to use the blackboard every Sunday?’ The answer must be simply, No. Because one can use the blackboard is no reason for always using it…The blackboard should be a servant, not a taskmaster.” (88)

Thus do our ancestors whip our little media-frenzied technology-addicted butts into shape.

Amen.

Naughty teens, pernicious literature, and scare quotes: a glimpse at 1884

Youth's Golden Cycle

132 years ago – when (according to some) people slipped seamlessly from childhood into adulthood – John Fraser (Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, University of Chicago) published a 439-page-thick doorstop book titled:

Youth’s Golden Cycle: or, Round the Globe in Sixty Chapters: Showing How to Get on in the World, with Hints on Success in Life; Examples of Successful Men; The Blessings of Loving Mothers, Careful Housewives, Clean, Cozy Homes; What and How to Eat and Drink: What to Read and How to Write; the Structure and Uses of the Most Important Members of the Body; How to Be and Keep Strong; The Wonders of Creation, Science and Art; Little Things-their Importance; Entertaining Stories of Animals; Animals-their Language and Habits; (etc.)

Back in 1884, titles were often as cumbersome as the books themselves.

This book was written for adolescent readers in response to “the rapid increase of the evils that result from the reading of pernicious literature,” “immoral fiction,” “bad books,” and other things being written by “vile writers” and being marketed by “worse publishers.”

Shocker: the market has been targeting teens for quite a while now. And adults have been afraid about the commercialized culture for as long as the market has been targeting teens. As the author says in his introduction:

“Every hour, the havoc wrought by the perusal of immoral fiction by our school-boys is assuming graver aspects. Almost daily we read of bands of youthful desperadoes, just entering their teens, being broken up by the police, and nearly always it is found that the organizations so broken up were directly suggested by dime novels…”

In other words, young teens and the media marketed to them have been viewed with alarmist fear for – well, for quite awhile now, even long before 1884. Cell phone apps and music videos may be new; the fears surrounding them are not. Nor are our lofty attempts to replace the offending filth with something nobler.

This particular book attempted to do just that: “Now the express object of this book is to counteract the evil influence of this vicious literature, and to furnish youth with reading that will be as exciting as any novel, and at the same time instructive, wholesome, manly, and fresh. Nor will it be of the ‘goody-goody’ order, to which so much of our Sunday-school literature belongs.”

Ouch. Genuine scare quotes in 1884. “Goody-goody” used pejoratively in 1884. Sunday-school taking it on the chin in 1884.

In some ways, things haven’t changed at all.

 

 

The “problem” with middle school ministry (how they got it wrong…again)

In case you missed it, middle schoolers (all of them, presumably) are in the news this week.

Real Simple (which I thought was mostly about food, fashion, and repurposing canning jars and wood pallets into anything and everything you could ever need or want) recently posted this story:

“Sorry, Parents. Middle School is Scientifically the Worst (and you thought the Terrible Twos were bad).”

Spoiler alert: the article isn’t very hip on early adolescents. And I quote: “middle school is not fun for anyone” and “[every middle schooler is] a surly, exasperated pre-teen.”

Bah. Boo. Piffle. Grrr.

Then there’s this from Science Daily last week:

“Mom, You Think Babies Are Tough? Wait Until Middle School.”

This sounds a little less alarmist than the other article, but equally down on middle schoolers. How thoughtful of them.

Both articles are lay-summaries of a study out of Arizona State University titled:

“What It Feels Like to Be A Mother: Variations by Children’s Developmental Stages” (Luthar and Ciciolla, Developmental Psychology 52:1 (2016), 143-154).*

You may notice that this title doesn’t diss middle schoolers at all – doesn’t even mention them by name. That’s not to say the article is all warm and fuzzy on middle schoolers. In fact, before the study was even conducted, the authors “anticipated, first, that the middle school years would be the most challenging” for mothers. (Fathers weren’t part of this study, so there’s that to consider.)

The study – conducted between 2005 and 2010 – of 2,247 well-educated American women showed that many mothers (many of those specific mothers, anyway) do/did in fact experience some more negative things and some fewer positive things when their children were in middle school than when their children were other ages.

So, therefore, hence, ergo middle school is scientifically proven to be The Worst.

The End.

Except for, well, these (and other things) that the authors concede:

  • mothers might have experienced higher stress levels because they themselves often become busier when their children reach middle school (extra-curricular activities, more friend events, extended soccer-mom chauffeuring – that kind of thing)
  • mothers might have sensed more child negative to me attitudes – which were measured by distancing behaviors because middle school is when children start naturally displaying more independence
  • mothers might have experienced less fulfillment and lower levels of life satisfaction because of their own transition to mid-life (a time of “heightened introspection and increased awareness of mortality” due to “declines in their physical and cognitive functioning” (150) or: My Life Rots)
  • mothers might have experienced more depression and parenting overload due to “contagion of stress” in which mothers internalize and worry about their children’s ability to cope with middle school challenges (perhaps because she is reliving her own middle school experience, something mothers are notoriously good at doing)
  • &c.

All of that to say – “Middle School is Scientifically The Worst” is horribly misleading and ridiculously unhelpful and eminently unfair – to middle schoolers primarily, but also to those who care about them.

But it sure makes for a dramatically catchy headline, which the world loves. And it confirms what those of us in middle school ministry know the world thinks of us: “you are big losers” (or maybe “you are demented saints” depending on the day).

But we know better. We know that we are the big winners not because of anything we’ve done or said (don’t stumble by patting yourself on the back) but because Jesus has graciously given us an enthusiastically authentic love for the kids too many people think are unlovable and unmanageable.

Guess what: we don’t care one teeny tiny bit about dramatically catchy headlines. We care about middle schoolers – each of them and all of them.

Here might be the most important statement in the study:

“This developmental transition [early adolescence] is especially difficult because junior high schools bring decreased personal, positive relationships with teachers at a time when youth particularly need connections with supportive adults.” (150)

Spoiler alert: enter – you.

The middle school pastor. The Wyldlife leader. The involved parent. The caring aunt and uncle. The interested neighbor. The loving grandparent. The faithful small group leader.

So go ahead – go change a middle schooler’s world today by showing up, being present, celebrating them, sharing real life, and breathing Jesus all over the place.

Really. Just go do it. Now. Because the only problem with middle school ministry is that there’s not enough room in our hearts for all the love for all the kids.

*The original peer-reviewed study can be accessed through EBSCO host PsycARTICLES research database. You can find an earlier public-access version of the study here.

 

 

About that letter to Christians in Indiana: in which I look deeper

A few days ago, Jesus penned a letter to all the Christians in Indiana and any others elsewhere who might be reading (which I think might have been code for All the Christians America, but that’s just a guess – he kept that a little vague).

I didn’t get the letter until today, which makes me wonder what’s wrong with my mail service. It was addressed to me, after all. I also wonder how many other important missives from Jesus I’ve missed. I thought I had them all, but now who knows?

If Jesus were here, I’d want ask him something – after first confessing all the ways I continue to fail him, each and every day, in spite of passionately loving him and desiring to follow him closely. I’m basically a schmuck. Layers and layers and layers of selfish, petty, blechness filling up my guts, just waiting for a chance to spill out all over the place.

It’s a real problem.

Thankfully, there is also the gracious breath of God nudging aside space to fill up layers and layers and layers of my soul, meaning there is hope each and every day for yet another layer of schmuckiness to get peeled away. At least that’s what I read in an earlier letter. Maybe that’s changed (as this letter seems to imply) and I missed the memo.

This is the thing I would ask Jesus, if I were looking him in the eyes:

Are we really, each and every one of us, as hopelessly and horribly debauched as all that? I know we are each a complete and total mess, especially deep, deep down in the most hidden places, broken beyond human reckoning. But has that beautifully redeemed collective brokenness really grown into nothing more than angry, combative, petty, arrogant, entitled, and unbreachable barriers between you and the world while leaving a legacy of only damage, pain, and isolation, like you said? If so, we might as well all call it quits now because I can only assume the Transforming Spirit of the living God has fled Indiana

If I were looking Jesus in the eyes, and he said such searingly difficult things of me, I wouldn’t say nay. He sees things inside I do not.  He might have even stronger things to say. But I know he wouldn’t give up on me. At least he never has in the past. I also know that he wouldn’t strip my identity and take delight in sweeping me and everyone else into a dust pan of shame.

I know there is much too much yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly goings-on (not just in Indiana, by all account). I know that a good amount of all the yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly rhetoric might be so much stinky hot air because many yappers and carpers don’t read the thing they are yapping and carping about – regardless of which angle their yapping and carping may take.

But I also know there are countless disciples and followers of Christ who are not primarily angry, combative, petty, and arrogant full-of-themself screamers whose sole accomplishment is to erect unbreachable barriers between the world and God Almighty.

I was in the presence of 50 tonight – young adults who joyfully and faithfully give up hours each week to share life with middle school and high school students, listening to their questions, attending their events, celebrating their uniqueness, and breaking down barriers.

They are reflecting Jesus to those around them. They are bringing salt and light to a bland and dark world. They are spreading the sweet aroma of Christ wherever they go. They are spilling over with the love of God and changing the world.

But their faithfulness is quiet. Their service is gentle. Their voices are soft. They do not scream and thrash about.

Instead, they follow Jesus, step by step, day by day, faithfully, humbly, joyfully. Even here in Indiana.

They, and countless others, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, comfort the broken, welcome the children, reverently serve and partake of the Eucharist, pass the peace with sincere warmth and concern, humbly refill the coffee pot again, engage in deeply personal conversations with those who are lonely. And so much more.

I know such things could and should happen to a greater degree – but still they are happening. Week after week, day after day, minute by minute, by people who aren’t waving placards or shouting platitudes or taking broad swipes but rather people who are intent on following Jesus as best they know how.

Admittedly, disciples of Christ make missteps along the way, sometimes serious ones. Our rhetoric sometimes fall short of gracious. Our actions sometimes fall short of kind. Our service sometimes falls short of humble.

But Jesus continues working in us, stirring our hearts towards his work, and drawing our souls deeper and further into his. He’s amazingly faithful that way.

Even in Indiana.

 

Copyright 2015 Crystal Kirgiss
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any organization or institution she is affiliated with.