in light of this article and the national mumblings and shifts that precipitated it, and my post the other day revealing that i’ve been wondering the very same things myself, i’ve been asked to ruminate a bit more at length about how to structure — grade-wise — a youth ministry.
first, jennifer asked me what i meant when i commented that my young teen daughter’s experience this year in a private K-8 is night and day different than the public middle school (6th – 8th) she attended last year. i mentioned that her current school isn’t a christian school, only to dispel the notion that the difference would be that factor. here was my response to jennifer:
great question, jennifer. let me give a short and quick response here (and maybe i’ll elaborate more later). i’ve noticed these things in liesl and her classmates…
– decreased obsession with clothing and brands. they don’t wear uniforms, but they’re not allowed to have brands that show. consequently, it just doesn’t matter as much to liesl. this is probably less about being K-8 as it is about the particular private school she’s in, but i did see a MASSIVE jump forward in this — for liesl — when she moved to 6th grade at the public middle school.
– decreased obsession with popular culture in general. again, some of this is, surely, more about the school she’s in than the K-8 structure, as liesl no longer watches TV during the week, since the school wants us to limit media, and she spends very little time on the internet for similar reasons. that said, i have to believe there’s an intensification of desire to be adult-like, or at least “fully teen”, when young teens are in an exclusively young teen population, as opposed to a population that includes a large percentage of children who don’t care much about those same issues. case in point: two of my 7th grade guys – from the small group i lead — wanted a particular lego set for christmas. i was a little surprised, now that they’re in 7th grade; and i had to resist the urge to tease them, because i think it’s FANTASTIC that they remain kids as long as they can! i have to believe that kind of behavior would be more normative in a K-8 than in an exclusively middle school context.
– play is normative. in other words, the kids at the K-8 all play in around each other before and after school, and during various breaks. and they actually play like kids. i didn’t see this kind of play at the middle school.
– fantasy is still ok. i might be reaching here — AND, this really could be more about the school my kids attend, which so strongly encourages creativity — but it seems to be that the middle school was squeezing the creative out of liesl. and part of that was that it was squeezing ‘playfulness of the mind’ (fantasy) out of her. as a 12 year-old, i don’t think she needs to rush into a life of adult reality yet. i’m more than happy to have her keep a wonderfully playful mind. she’ll have plenty of time to deal with reality in the years to come!
– more innocence. this is subjective and difficult to quantify. i just sense that the 7th graders liesl attends school with now are more innocent than the 6th graders she was hanging with last year. some of that, again, could be a result of the homes that send their children to private schools, and this private school in particular.
then, kevin, knowing that i’ve been a proponant of churches forming middle school groups for years and years, asked what my current thinking on that is, with this question:
Yes, almighty guru of jr. high ministry. I’m also in the process of possibly splitting 7-12 grades into 2 separate ministries. As a matter a fact I remember you suggesting this very thing to me at a YS convention. So, if you have any thoughts or suggestions other than send the 7th and 8th graders down into the children’s ministry… If you can pull that one off let me know… Let us know as soon as you can! You have 5 seconds to comply!!! j/k.
here are my random thoughts-of-the-moment:
– i still think it’s better to seperate middle schoolers from high schoolers, when possible, in youth ministry. in fact, these current discussions support that even more. i hold to my long time view, that combining the two groups rips off one or both. you either overshoot the developmental readiness of the young teens, or undershoot the issues facing high schoolers. and the problems talked about in this article, and experienced by so many of us — like the acceleration of young teens moving into teenage and adult cultural choices and risky-behavior choices — only seems to be exacerbated by having young teens constantly hanging around older teens.
– i have, historically, thought (and said) that smaller groups (less than 15 students, 6th or 7th through 12th grade) should stay combined, if only for the bit of momentum possible. but i’m questionning the wisdom of that now. i’m starting to wonder if a church isn’t able (due to size of the group) provide a ministry that is truly developmentally appropriate for young teens, maybe (this is a HUGE maybe — and it’s countering everything i’ve thought and said for 20 years!)… maybe (did i say maybe?)… maybe (did you hear the maybe?) we should think about keeping young teens with children’s ministry instead of combining them with the high schoolers (man, i feel like i’m betraying my calling just to say that!).
– the idea of young teens (6th – 8th grade, or 11 – 14) staying part of children’s ministry in a church that isn’t able to provide a separate, age-specific, developmentally-nuanced ministry, would require a total rethinking of children’s ministry. in fact, this is one of the reasons i became such a big fan of churches moving 6th grade into the youth ministry: i saw almost no churches where 6th graders were in children’s ministry