Tag Archives: middle school ministry

my brand new book: 99 THOUGHTS FOR JUNIOR HIGHERS

99-thoughts-for-junior-highersi wrote a thing.

actually, i co-wrote it. with my good friend brooklyn lindsey.

it’s called 99 Thoughts for Junior Highers: Biblical Truth in Bite-Sized Pieces

we both completely dig junior highers/middle schoolers/young teens. really: i’ve been working with them for 33 years, brooklyn for lots of years also (she’s clearly not as old as me). i wrote another one of these a year ago with my own two niños (99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents), and thought it was a blast to write. so we were pretty pumped when Simply Youth Ministry said yes to our idea of adding this book to their 99 Thoughts line.

if you’re familiar with the 99 Thoughts line, you might be surprised by this: even though we wrote for young teens, the “thoughts” are longer than most of the books in this series (in fact, we turned in a manuscript that was almost exactly twice as long as requested!). there’s depth to this book, even though it cover a LOT of ground in a limited amount of space.

we broke the 99 Thoughts into 11 “chapters” (really, subject groupings):

  • Who Am I? – Understanding Yourself
  • What’s Happening to Me? – Everything About You Is Changing
  • You and God
  • The Low-Down on Church
  • How Do I Figure Out What I Believe?
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Future Matters
  • What’s Most Important? – Figuring Out Priorities
  • Your Crazy Life
  • Girls and Guys

each chapter also has a “Story from Junior High Marko” or “Junior High Brooklyn.” they’re true stories from our own young teen years, thematically connected to the chapter, and told from our perspective as if we were junior highers. a little weird, but fun.

here’s the back cover copy:

Life for a typical junior higher is awesome. And hard. And fun. And exciting. And boring. And crazy, right? Basically, it’s a blur of all those things—and more!

Junior high truly is a season of ups and downs, of possibilities and confusion, of amazing memories and embarrassing moments. To survive it all, you sometimes just need a little help—or 99 bite-sized bits of help!

Mark Oestreicher and Brooklyn Lindsey—youth pastors who’ve worked with people your age for a long, long time—have teamed up to create this insider’s guide for this wild ride.

They’ll help as you examine the changes in your life, figure out what you believe, see where God and church fit into the picture, choose how to interact with family and friends, and decide what matters most in life. And you’ll read some true stories about the authors’ own junior high years!

99 Thoughts for Junior Highers will entertain, engage, and encourage you during this crazy season of life!

we really hope that youth workers and parents will get it for their 11 – 14 year-olds. it’s a great stocking stuffer, mom & dad. it’s a fun small group christmas gift (which you could totally use in small groups come january). check it out or buy it here!

and, for a bit of oddity, here’s a li’l promo video i shot in my hotel room at o’hare airport last night when i got stuck there on my way home…

overheard at my 8th grade guys small group

IMG_3867just a short collection of awesome and/or awkward quotes from my 8th grade guys small group this past week:

8th grade guy: For Halloween, I decided to wear the best costume of all time.
(btw, i don’t even remember what the costume was — it didn’t strike me as all that awesome.)

8th grade guy: In basketball the other day, I swear I was Mickey Mantle.
another 8th grade guy: wait, wasn’t Mickey Mantle baseball?
first 8th grade guy: (look of confusion)

(during one guy’s sharing of highs and lows–or “happy/crappy,” as we’ve come to call it–he interrupted himself, then forgot what he’d been saying…)
another 8th grade guy: I’ve never seen somebody distract himself before.

8th grade guy: That would take SO much self control, which I have none of.
(i don’t remember what this comment was related to, but it cracked me up. and props for self-awareness!)

(we were talking about a commitment to ‘confidentiality’ as an important part of our group…)
8th grade guy: yeah, like, it’s bad to gypsy.
me: gypsy?
8th grade guy: i said ‘gossip.’
three 8th grade guys in unison: you said gypsy!

8th grade guy: Pinterest is tumblr for moms

(i was attempting to unpack the idea of confidentiality. we’d talked about not gossipping. and we’d defined confidentiality and why it’s important. then this happened.)
me: it’s sort of like, this room needs to be Vegas.
8th grade guy: does that mean we’re going to come home from small group with herpes?

the Campference after-buzz (with photos!)

our third annual Middle School Ministry Campference was this past weekend. and it just doesn’t do it justice to say that it was a blast. there’s something so completely unique about this event and the vibe we share that makes it very, very different than other youth ministry events (even the good ones!).

as i told the group in my “camp rules” during the first session, those who have been before know that the really great breakouts and seminars and main sessions aren’t the best thing about the event. even though they’re really great, lots of youth ministry events have great breakouts and seminars and main sessions. the best part of campference is doing life together with 100+ people who love middle schoolers. it’s the long conversations around meals. it’s the laughter during breaks. it’s the 30 people running into buffalo wild wings. it’s the group of people making s’mores around the fire pit while another group are screaming their heads off on nighttime zipline runs. it’s speakers who are player/coaches, present the entire weekend and more accessible than anywhere else. it’s the slight irreverence. it’s the lack of a “plane” between “the stage” and “the audience.” it’s praying for one another.

here’s a little sampling of photos from my iphone (adam will have much more lovely photos from his good camera):

springhill camp in seymour is a very different setting for a youth ministry event, for starters. and this sort of view sure doesn’t hurt set the tone.

kurt johnston and katie edwards were our main session emcees for the 2nd year in a row, and are just such a blast.

a week out, we scrambled to organize a lip-sync competition. and it was a total win. 10 competitors gave us loads of laughs.

this moment, saturday night during free time (really, the whole event is free time!) captured some of the essence of this event for me. at one table, kenny & elle campbell were leading a discussion about marriage & ministry; and at the next table, there was a texas hold ’em game getting going.

each year we invite two keynote speakers who are a little outside the middle school ministry tribe. this year those were dave rahn and amanda drury. both were uh-maze-ing, not just in their main session talks, but in the way they were present to people all weekend long. mandy talked about the role of doubt in her main session talk, and this moment was brilliant. she used the balloons to represent doubts, and the bowling ball to represent faith. she summarized with “one grain of faith is more powerful than all the doubts in the world.”

the campference is also about relationships and friendships, new and old. this is me with tim mauriello. tim is a 40-something middle school pastor in indiana. AND, he was a junior higher in my first church!

overheard at my 8th grade guys small group, premiere edition!

new school year, and my middle school guys’ small group has resumed! this year, they’re 8th graders. and this year, we split into two groups (each group still has 7 or 8 guys). so i might miss out on 50% of the amazing things said, since they’ll be said in the other group!

but here’s what i got so far:

IMG_49378th grade guy: my low this week? well… guys… I’m pregnant.

whatever logic may have existed that was a guiding force in the following conversational bit was completely lost on me!
8th grade guy: marko, you weren’t here last week, and we named our group the swag muffins.
another 8th grade guy: But we wrote it in legit Chinese
third 8th grade guy: Kim Jon Il. I mean Kim Jon Un.
me: He’s Korean, not Chinese
third 8th grade guy: Yeah, but he’s cute

this was the first time in my life that i’ve ever uttered the following phrase.
me: oh, my gosh, please put your nipple away!

me: What does it mean to be consistent at something?
8th grade boy: Jesus

8th grade guy: you’re lucky you have a brother closer to your age. Mine is like a man.
another 8th grade guy: my sister’s like a man.

IMG_49388th grade guy (with a comment that had NOTHING to do with what we were talking about!): I wonder if you fart when they jump start your heart
another 8th grade guy: you void your bowels
third 8th grade guy: what if you died on the toilet?
back to the 2nd guy: that’s what Elvis did.

me: What’s worldly wisdom?
8th grade guy: It’s like common sayings and things people believe, like “don’t trust people with big noses”

8th grade guy: My high this week was that I got taken out of school to go surfing today because the surf was so good
another 8th grade guy, incredulously: What kind of family do you have?
first 8th grade guy, quietly: A surfing family

a peek into Kurt Johnston’s morning devotions

love this little video of kurt talking about this crazy little event called the Middle School Ministry Campference. kurt helped me dream it up, and was my original sounding board when my dream of the event was just a scattered mess of vision and impulse.

and, in this video, you will catch a glimpse of the quality biblical materials kurt uses for his own devotional life.

the Campference start FIVE WEEKS FROM TODAY! this year we’re adding some awesome new speakers, and some sweet new conversation options, and a bunch of other goodies. (oh, and this week the camp approved our crazy idea of a combo zipline and paintball game during free time. they didn’t go for the combo zipline and skeet shooting, though.) but the best thing about the Campference remains the same — hanging with the middle school ministry tribe.

holy cow. it’s gonna be a blast.



Hi. I’m Lenny, Marko & Adam’s summer intern. I figured I’d be making coffee and copies, turns out I have to wear this stupid dinosaur costume to work every day.

But it’ll be worth it, I’m sure.

Anyway, Marko and Adam wanted me to tell you that this Sunday is the early bird deadline for the Middle School Ministry Campference. Apparently, doing that will save you $30 per person. And that’s a lot of money in my world considering I’m living in a tent in Adam’s backyard and Marko is only paying me $50 for the whole summer.

It’ll be worth it, I’m sure.


Lenny the intern

an awesome new middle school bible (and a screamin’ deal on pre-orders)

HEY, EVERYONE WHO WORKS WITH MIDDLE SCHOOLERS (or junior highers, or whatever you call young teens in your context)!

get ready for…

Ignite - The Bible for TeensNKJV Ignite Bible for Teens

i was pretty stoked last year when i got contacted about a new bible being created by thomas nelson publishers for young teens. at first, i was just giving opinions (which i’m rarely short of). but eventually, my role grew to that of general editor on this awesome bible. our hope with this bible was to create a bible that would help young teens with a few bible-related issues:

  1. we wanted a bible they would be pumped about, one that connected with them in content and design, one they would be excited about carrying around and opening up.
  2. we wanted a bible that would help them find what the bible says about the real questions middle schoolers have, and subjects they need to know about (addressing “I’d love to know what the Bible says about this subject, but I have no idea where to find it!”).
  3. we wanted a bible that helped young teens actually engage scripture, rather than distracting them from scripture.

and, i’m really pleased that Ignite meets all those goals. i pulled together a killer team of writers who really know young teens, including brooklyn lindsey, scott rubin, jeremy lee, crystal kirgiss, and others. and many of you helped me when we needed some quick input from real middle schoolers about the name (Ignite was the overwhelming choice of the 1500 young teens we polled).

here are some of the features:

  • Find It Fast—A table of contents and topical index on the inside cover so it’s easy to find what you need
  • Spotlight—In depth features about the big story of God and His people
  • White Hot Topics—Articles that deal with major issues that teens face today
  • Flash Points—Smaller articles that introduce teens to topics and stories they don’t know are in the Bible
  • Sparks—Highlights of Bible promises to deepen faith
  • Soul Fuel—Relevant verses pulled out for memorization

i’m particularly pleased with the Spotlight and White Hot Topics features. each them include a string of 6 entries on a particular theme, anchored to 6 different bible passages that address a particular subject. there are 10 of the Spotlight features (6 entries each on 10 critical theological subjects), and 60 of the White Hot Topics (6 each on 60 topics!). download the sampler (the book of Matthew) and you’ll get a sense of how these work. really, i could see youth workers using these topical and theological scripture threads as either preparation for teaching or as the actual fodder for small groups (even if you don’t want an NKJV bible, these elements are an extremely rich resource).

anyhow, since i had a hand in developing this beauty, The Youth Cartel gets to sell them at some really wonderful prices. i mean, we’re discounting the regular softcover (from a retail of $24.99 to $19.99) and hardcover (from a retail of $34.99 to $29.99). but since we’re really about resourcing youth workers, we’re offering some absolutely killer bulk discounts. if you pre-order 10 or more copies, we’ll discount the price 44% off retail on the softcovers (making them $13.99) and 40% off retail on the hardcovers (making them $20.99). when the bible officially releases in a few weeks, on july 16, we’ll need to raise that minimum bulk order to 20 copies (you’ll still be able to get discounts on orders of 20 or more after the release date, but the discount won’t be quite as steep).

so, download the sampler and check it out.
then, head over to the product page on The Youth Cartel store and pre-order your copies!
questions? shoot me an email ([email protected]).

my 7th grade guys invite you to the Campference, or at least that’s what they’re trying to do

ok, last week, adam came to my 7th grade guys small group (the guys with all the amazing and hilarious quotes that i post here from time to time). i scripted a little video that i was hoping we could shoot in one long camera shot, with each guy turning and looking at the camera when he had lines. the setting even allowed them to have the scripts in their laps, ensuring (in my mind) that this was possible.

but after about four takes, it became clear these were not, uh, shall we say, professional actors! (in their defense, the whole thing had a little vibe of “how can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” since we were having a pool party, and had to finish shooting this first!)

so, we regrouped, and did multiple takes of each guy’s lines, one at a time, over and over again (i often had to say the line to them many times). seriously, it was hilariously and wonderfully middle school ministry just making this thing!

the result is both a fun little promo for the middle school ministry campference, AND a glimpse at real young teens. and as a bonus: you can see me fake-reading a bible and fake-leading a small group in the background!

by the way: the early bird pricing for the campference ends in LESS THAN two weeks, on june 30 (that’s a week from saturday). the ALL-INCLUSIVE early bird rate (all-inclusive means registration, plus accommodations and all meals! seriously!) is a low, low $295 for individuals, and $270 per person for groups of 3 or more. those prices go up something like a million dollars (give or take) on july 1. so, ya know, you’ll want to act now.

the MSMC is — not exaggerating here — the coolest and most fun weekend in the year for anyone who cares about junior highers. you gotta join us. and, in case the three previous links to the website weren’t obvious enough, here’s another one.

overheard at my 7th grade guys small group

IMG_3870i think this will be the last installment of “overheard at my 7th grade guys small group”! our group meets tonight for a final swim party, but then we take the summer off. hopefully i’ll be back with the new “overheard at my 8th grade guys small group” in the fall!

in the mean time, here’s some gems from a recent small group time:

7th grade guy: We didn’t have school today because the bathrooms aren’t working

7th grade guy: We need to have movie night!
another 7th grade guy, totally serious: Can we watch brokeback mountain?

7th grade guy: I learned to play the hardest song in the world on bass: you don’t know you’re beautiful by one direction.

first 7th grade guy: You had school testing on your birthday? That’s the worst birthday ever.
second 7th grade guy, mumbling to himself: I think dying of cancer on your birthday would be the worst birthday ever.

7th grade guy: My low was that I sharted in class yesterday.

7th grade guy: I’ll tell you how to make a great mustache. Step one: do you have a cork?

7th grade guy, after a bunch of them put their feet on the table: I had my feet on the table before it was cool.

7th grade guy: Denzel Washington, the best actor ever. So darn cool. So darn clever.

first 7th grade guy: He died of a flesh eating disease. I forget what it’s called.
second 7th grade guy: Necrophelia?

7th grade guy on why moms are awesome: she has to go through three minutes of agonizing pain to get you

7th grade guy: Have you ever noticed that the bears Elisha called out of the woods to maul the boys mauled 42 of them, and 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything?

and remember: if you’re the kind of youth worker who actually likes middle schoolers, you need to join us at the 3rd annual middle school ministry campference!

overheard at my 7th grade guys small group

IMG_3870the hits, they just keep coming…

only a san diego 7th grade guy would ask: what’s a snowblower?

we were doing a lesson on how god is a dreamer. and, since we’re created in the image of god, we should have that “dreamer” character in us also. after looking at the characteristic of god, i wanted to get the guys dreaming (in a silly way, to start). so i divided them into three teams, and told them they had 5 minutes to dream up an imaginary country. they had to name it, give it a motto, choose a national sport, write 2 or 3 laws, and list 3 subjects taught in school.

uh. right. 7th grade guys.

these are the actual results (you can TOTALLY see the in-between-ness of middle schoolers here — still children, already stepping into young adulthood):

Group 1
our new country name: swistachia
the motto on our country’s seal: jesus, jesus, jesus and more jesus. p.s. jesuuus
the national sport: kangaroo racing
2 or 3 laws:

  • chairs are outlawed
  • nothing for food but glue
  • obey The Great Leader

3 subjects taught in school:

  • alligator wrestling
  • kangaroo anatomy
  • how to be a ninja

Group 2
our new country name: mordor
the motto on our country’s seal: “no frodos allowed”
the national sport: shuffle board
2 or 3 laws:

  • The Ring is not allowed near Mt Doom
  • all hobbits are subject to random inspection

3 subjects taught in school:

  • killing
  • ring searching
  • hobbit eating

Group 3
our new country name: youranus
the motto on our country’s seal: west coast rachets
the national sport: bar fighting
2 or 3 laws:

  • shoes and shirts, no service
  • stupid people are good at math
  • paul blart is cool

3 subjects taught in school:

  • shooting bears
  • how to work at wallmart
  • math

(if responses like these are the youth ministry world you live and thrive in, you really should join us at the tribal gathering known as the middle school ministry campference this october)