Tag Archives: rj grunewald

my middle school ministry interview with RJ Grunewald, part 2

middle school youth worker (and really good blogger, btw) rj grunewald asked me to be a part of a blog series he’s posted over time, interviewing various middle school ministry peeps. he asked some great questions; and after a month of sitting on them, i took some time to respond. he posted the responses in a couple parts (here’s part 1), and here are my responses to RJ’s second set of three questions:

How has having kids influenced the way you view middle school ministry?

There’s no question that my experience in middle school ministry has made me a better dad. Not that I’m perfect, by any means; but my years of studying early adolescence and spending time with countless young teens has given me a perspective and understanding that has been a great resource in my own attempts at parenting.

At the same time, parenting teenagers (and parenting young teens in particular) has reminded me how little I know. Or, more accurately, parenting teenagers has reminded me how true it is that every teenager is unique, and they each have their own journey to travel. This has, in a wonderful way, had a humbling affect on me. As a result, it’s easier for me, today, to see myself as a “tour guide to the middle school world” than as the answer guy who knows exactly what every young teen needs.

The third implication that springs to mind is more about parents. I have SO much more sympathy for parents than I used to have. I now understand that most parents are afraid on one level or another (afraid they’re screwing up, doing it wrong, not good enough; or afraid that all their good intentions will be devoured by all the other inputs and influences in the lives of their children). I understand the motivation of overprotective parents. I live with the cultural pressure, every day, that wants to tell me I’m a bad parent if I give my kids meaningful responsibility, or if I allow them to fail or experience natural consequences, or if I don’t “protect” them.

You recently wrote Understanding Your Young Teen; what are some ways that youth workers can partner with parents during adolescence?

Again, the answer could be a book, right? A few thoughts (none of which will be groundbreaking):

Exercise curiosity. I’ve found this to be a critical life skill in the past ten years (in other words, it’s newer for me); but it has big implications for youth workers and parents. Anytime a parent says or does or asks something that’s either slightly annoying, or fully pushes your buttons, learn to be curious about what their positive intent might be. Ask yourself, Why might they be saying that, or doing that, or asking that? What might they be hoping to gain?

Educate parents. You might not be a true peer (assuming you don’t have middle schoolers living in your home); but you’re still a student of students in a way most of them aren’t able to be. Admit that you don’t fully know their experience, but that you’d love to partner with them by sharing what you’re learning about young teen development, youth culture, and the world of middle schoolers.

Communicate your values. To any outsider (parent or other), middle school ministry could easily look like a parade of chaos. Articulate your values, and find ways to slip them into conversations and communication. Parents will always be more on your side if they have a sense that your middle school ministry boat has a rudder.

Finally, keep them informed. The uniformed parent is a potentially dangerous animal, prone to assumption, false expectations, and accusation. Try to get them the details they want and need before they start wondering if you’ll be providing them; then provide them again, for good measure.

If you could share one thing with a middle school ministry newbie that you wished you knew when you started, what would it be?

When doing ministry with young teens, the immediate feedback loops constantly provide you with false information. You’ll experience resistance from parents (and often the church) that could lead you to believe that they see you as a threat, when it’s really only their fear and care coloring their responses and behavior. Middle schoolers seem like they’re not paying attention. Middle Schoolers flip-flop on commitment regularly. Middle schoolers could easily lead you to believe they just want to fart and giggle. But none of that is true. The real story is that you are doing ministry in an extremely unique and small window of time when the semi-clean slate offered by puberty combines with massively formative years in terms of identity, faith formation, and other major issues that will implicate young teens for the rest of their lives. So, don’t base your “success” on immediate feedback; rather, stay anchored in your unique calling that comes from God (who is very pleased with you).

(oh, and, adam mclane saw part one of this interview yesterday and was so inspired, he decided to run a few day-long middle school ministry sale on The Youth Cartel store. 25% off middle school ministry, understanding your young teen, my faith, my friends, and my school, if you use the coupon code SQUIRREL.)

my middle school ministry interview with RJ Grunewald, part 1

middle school youth worker (and really good blogger, btw) rj grunewald asked me to be a part of a blog series he’s posted over time, interviewing various middle school ministry peeps. he asked some great questions; and after a month of sitting on them, i took some time to respond. he’s posting the responses in a few parts, but here are my responses to three of his questions:

What made you fall in love with youth ministry, specifically to middle school students?

When I first started volunteering in my church’s youth ministry, I wasn’t old enough to work with the high school group. And in college, my first part-time role was as a Junior High Pastor. When I started in that role, I didn’t have any particular affinity to young teens – it was just where there was need in that church. But I quickly became aware of the underdog nature of middle school ministry. I think this is still true, but less so; in the mid-80s, the local youth pastors network was all people who were passionate about high schoolers, and I was a bit of a lone voice. And, to be honest, I think the others patronized me a bit, seeing my ministry to young teens as the junior varsity, and assuming I would someday step up to the big leagues. That assumption rubbed me the wrong way, so I started becoming a student of young teens. I learned about early adolescent development. I was getting my grad degree at the time, and had the opportunity to focus on curriculum development with the weekly real-world lab of my ministry context. That combination of theory and reality birthed in me a deep love for young teens and young teen ministry, and I quickly became convinced of the critical nature and amazing potential of this ministry.

How has middle school ministry changed from when you started as a volunteer to now?

I think the primary change is the one we’ve been seeing across all youth ministry: a move away from the notion that great programming produces transformation. But two other shifts are noteworthy:

  1. While middle school ministry is still, in my youth ministry circles, seen as the stepchild of youth ministry, there’s been an enormous shift in professionalism. More and more middle school youth workers stay in young teen ministry for years, and view it as a specific calling. That’s been a wonderful shift. As I grow older in middle school ministry, I have peers who have been at this for more than 10 years (and someone whose been in middle school ministry for 10 years isn’t very different than someone whose been in it for 30 years, like myself).
  2. Maybe the biggest shift is in the culture and experience of middle schoolers. With the extension of adolescence, the drop in puberty, and the implications of the Internet, the life issues that used to predominantly be high school issues are often now middle school issues. Churches used to be able to get away with having an anemic middle school ministry if they had a great high school ministry; but that doesn’t work anymore. If Churches aren’t intentional about middle school ministry, they’re probably going to have a lousy, anemic high school ministry.

Tell me a bit about the middle school ministry campference. What do you love most about this conference/camp?

Man, that event is a happy place for me. I launched it last year with the hope that we could gather a bunch of people who really understand the unique calling of young teen ministry. And I knew I didn’t just want to do a middle school version of other youth ministry conferences: I wanted it to be a tribal gathering.

And that’s what it felt like, since we combined the stuff you’d hope to experience at a conference with the relational context of a camp. Sure, the speakers had good things to say, and the seminars and guided dialogues were meaty. But the real beauty (and the total uniqueness of this thing) is that it was all a shared experience. We ate together, played together, and worshipped and learned together.

At most youth ministry events (great as they may be), we middle school peeps are understandably nothing more than a topic. But at the MSMC, we’re together on a journey. It had a distinctly different feeling, as I’d dreamed it would. And, I’ve never seen such unanimously positive evaluations from event attendees. Clearly, we struck a chord.

This year, the MSMC is picking the best of what we learned and experienced last year, and adding some new things. But there’s no question (at least for me) that it’s the one place middle school youth workers simply have to be during the year. (For what it’s worth: I didn’t ask RJ to ask me this question; but I’m stoked he did. Please check out middleschoolministrycampference.com for more info, or to register, and join us on October 26 – 28, in Seymour, IN.)


sure, i’m a bit of an app addict. but i’ve got it under control. it’s not like i need to start going to AAA (app addicts anonymous) and workin’ the 12 steps.

but i use enough apps to know the difference between a crapp (ha! i just made up that word!) and a decent app and a great app. so i’m happy to tell you about a way-cool youth ministry app created by an actual youth worker (with mad nerd skills, man).

meet: CLIPS, developed by rj grunewald, a junior high pastor (yes!) in the detroit area. (or, to find the CLIPS app on itunes, click here)

rj was kind enough to send me a free copy of the app to play around with; but it officially releases today.

rj says he likes to make apps that solve problems he has. the problem he’s trying to solve this time around? finding scenes in easy-to-rent films that have teaching value. that’s what CLIPS does. with more than 50 scenes in there so far, and more being added regularly, you can search by theme, passage, or movie.

here’s rj’s description:

Have you ever noticed that a scene from a popular movie can often teach better than any great lesson from a pastor or small group leader? Clips is all about helping people engage with the Bible by using scenes from great films. Pastors, small group leaders, and youth ministers can all benefit with the tools provided. Clips tells you exactly what scenes to use, what topics to teach, the verses you could use, and even some possible discussion questions. It gives you everything you need to easily find the scene you are teaching from, even linking to it in iTunes.

Open the app and you are free to browse the movie library, look up topics you’d like to teach, or even search for a scene based on a particular verse. Once you’ve found the movie you want to use, Clips makes it easy for you to have exactly what you need to lead a discussion on that scene.

– Library of 50 movies (and growing…)
– Over 80 topics
– Search by title, topic, or verse
– Share scene details via email
– Save your favorite clips and add used clips to history
– Easily find movies in iTunes through download links

heck, each scene even has discussion questions! if you had a few of these movies laying around, you could seriously use this thing as a last-minute back up curriculum for a small group.

anyhow, i think it’s totally cool, and thought you’d like to see it! serious props to rj, one of our own!