my latest middle school ministry column for youthworker journal is online, here. it compares baby birds leaving the nest to the experience we middle school youth workers have each year of watching children become apprentice young adults and head off to high school. for those of us with separate middle school and high school ministries (which has always been my experience), we’re literally saying goodbye to young men and women we’ve invested our lives in for a few years.
here’s a snippet from the article (click through to read the whole thing):
When it’s time for her babies to learn to fly, the mother eagle does this unsettling thing: She reaches into the nest with her talons, right through the soft down from her own belly she originally used to line the nest like a comforter, and pulls sticks up. Suddenly, the cozy nest is transformed from feather bed to an eaglet-butt-poking obstacle course. If they’re ever going to learn to fly, they have to tire of the nest.
I see the startled eyes of those eaglets in the eyes of my eighth grade guys right now. It’s spring, the end of their time in middle school. Three of the five of them are now taller than I am. Really, they’re young men. Every week they say things such as, “I am so done with middle school,” and, “I can’t wait to get to high school.” When they’re being sensitive (ha!) they might add, “not that I want to leave our group, Marko.”
i only have 6 more weeks of small group time with them, and my travels have me missing more of those than i wish. of course, my guys aren’t going away; and my relationship with them won’t cease to exist. but it will shift, to be sure — and it should. they’ll have new leaders in the high school ministry who are pouring into their lives, and i’ll cycle back around and get a new class of 6th grade boys.
this point every year (and, as a small group leader who has my guys from 6th through 8th grades, i really feel this every 3 years when they’re moving on) is poignant, beautiful, painful, sad, wonderful, and even — if i’m honest — a relief. i’ll miss my guys quite a bit. they’re really just becoming young men now; and i expect they’ll experience massive growth (in every way) over the next year or two. but i’ll have to watch further from the sidelines now. and that’s ok; but it’s bittersweet.