Junior High Ministry 101: Faith Development

As they enter adolescence, young teens go through a ton of developmental changes: Physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual. For those who minister to this age group, the spiritual development often proves to be the most challenging and sometimes frustrating when, in reality, it should be one of the most exciting because it provides fodder for wonderful discussions.

Kids who have grown up in church and developed certain assumptions suddenly begin to ask questions about their faith. While this sometimes feels threatening to adults (especially youth workers and parents), the reality is that without asking some of these questions and wrestling to own their faith, most junior highers won't develop a mature trust in Christ that lasts. The questioning is a REALLY good thing.

On my 13-year-old daughter's blog, she posts a question about faith....it's one of the first times I've seen her ask this type of question, and it's super exciting!

Here's what she posted (re-printed with her permission, of course!):

"Tonight I met a girl who was very nice and super great, but something was different about her. I thought she was a Christian, but how can I know for sure? I was comparing our lives (in my head), and realized that mine was totally different, and that mine mainly revolves around the church, and I am not so sure if hers does. I know that it isn't a bad thing to be super involved in church, but is there a point when it is too much? And at that point, where you begin to schedule things around your "church plans". I don't know what got me thinking, but I also don't know what to think. All I know is that there are so many people like this girl out there, and it's crazy to think that some of them don't even go to church, or have maybe even never heard of it."

In that short post are several issues that Kayla simply wouldn't have wondered about a year ago. Part of her intellectual and social development is the sudden ability to observe lifestyles of other people, compare them with her own and question how this relates to being a Christian.

Junior high students are asking questions. They may not post these questions on a blog, or even come directly to you for answers, but questions like my daughter's are on the minds of most of the students you minister to...

And that's a REALLY good thing!


Retreat Highlights

Our junior high and high school teams plus spouses returned yesterday from a fantastic four day retreat. A few highlights:

- The realization that over 1/3 of our team has been with us for less than 2 years.
- Our PDYM quiz (very interesting to see the rookies on the team do so well!).
- Working through the 'Elements' that make up our team culture.
- Playing 'speed frisbee' in the pool (that's not the name we all call it....but I don't think we call it by any name).
- A massive bowl of delicious guacamole.
- Getting to know our newest team members a little bit better.
- Beating Matt Hall at golf (a rare occurrence).
- Riding the elevator with Hulk Hogan's wife and daughter.
- Waiting 2.5 hours for food at Red Robin (really more like a low light).
- Lots laughs, lots of great conversation and lots of relaxation.


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Below Average
Lesson Topic: Week 1 of our summer series: Road Trip Summer
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Above Average
Music: Above Average
Lesson Quality: Below Average
Length of Lesson: 12 minutes
Student Response: Above Average

An incredibly busy, but fun weekend. It was the first weekend of our new service schedule plus promotion weekend. Our schedule was:

3:00 7th grade parent meeting
4:30 Service
I ran up to the baptismal to baptize a family in between services...
6:30 Service
8:00 7th grade game night

9:00 Service
11:00 head out to our paid staff and spouse retreat in Palm Springs!

We'll be together in Palm Springs until Wednesday afternoon.


A New Day!

When I was in College, one of my professors would start our 'Missions in a cross-cultural context' class by making us sing a song together. He didn't just do this at the start of the semester, but at the beginning of EVERY class! To make things worse, it was the same, cheesy song every time. I had never heard the song before, and I don't think I've heard it since.

Yesterday was a tough ministry day. One of the worst in a really long time. This morning when I woke up, that cheesy old song was running through my mind.

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, oh Lord. Great is thy faithfulness."
(sung to the tune of a really old, dorky christian song!)

That's it...that's the whole song. A song that, this morning, doesn't seem so cheesy.


Got Culture?

On Sunday afternoon, our entire student ministries team, along with spouses, is heading out to Palm Springs for our annual Staff Retreat. Amazingly, the church picks up the entire tab for this 3 night retreat because they recognize that each year just as we come out of a crazy school year, we head into what feels like an even crazier Summer! They support our need to get away to relax and re-charge.

Heading into our retreat, I've spent some time trying to identify and quantify our day-to-day culture. Who are we as a team? What are we marked by? What do we value? How do you know if you 'fit? etc. Without question, we have a culture that is unique, but trying to create a tangible representation of that culture (both the 'real' and the 'ideal') proved to be quite a challenge. I think I landed on something I'm ready to share at the retreat and I'll post about it when we return.

In the meantime, I'm going to toss this out to you: Can you define the culture of your student ministry or church team? Anybody want to share?


Shuffle It Up

A while back I was tagged to list the first 5 songs on my iPod when I hit shuffle. Today, I was tagged by Stacy to list the first 15. No cheating allowed! However, I do need to make this disclaimer: I get a good portion of my music from my daughter so that may explain some of what you see!

1. Eaten By The Monster of Love: Sparks
2. Surrender: Cheap Trick
3. Enough: Chris Tomlin
4. U Got The Look: Prince
5. Hear Me: Kelly Clarkson
6. Behind These Hazel Eyes: Kelly Clarkson
7. Pour Out My Heart: Everybody Duck
8. Photograph: Nickleback
9. Girlfriend: Avril Lavigne
10. 100 Years: Five for Fighting
11. Ring of Fire: Johny Cash
12. I Could Be Happy: Altered Images
13. Don't Stand So Close to Me: The Police
14. Something Beautiful: Natalie Grant

Let's see....I'll tag Kayla (we'll see how many of our songs are the same....), Brent, and John.


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Below Average
Lesson Topic: Week 2 of "When I Was Your Age"
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Above Average
Lesson Quality: Above Average
Length of Lesson: 21 minutes
Student Response: Above Average

We had a really fun weekend! Shaun Blakeney, our high school Pastor, taught the lesson so that our 8th graders could have a chance to meet him before they move into high school. Our music was strong, games were great and the overall energy of the weekend felt really high. Because it was Father's Day, our attendance was so low on Sunday night that we decided to combine our junior high and high school programs which is something we rarely do.


13 Candles

Tomorrow, I will become the parent of a teenager. Kayla will officially enter her teen years and, even though I know nothing significant will change instantly, Rachel and I will enter a new stage of life to some degree.

Perhaps the biggest part about tomorrow is that just thinking about it has made me realize how quickly time passes. It seems like I've only blinked once since Kayla was born. I'm afraid to blink again because if I do, she'll be headed off to college. Two more blinks and I'll giving her hand to some punk (actually, I'm sure he'll be a fantastic young man, but right now he's probably a 13-14 year old punk....)!


Random Randomness

The ladies in my family are at the mall, the boy in my family is at a buddies house and I'm relaxing in front of the t.v. watching the golf channel. Life is pretty good for the Johnston's! Lots of stuff running through my mind today:

- Had a dream last night that I was eating dinner with the entire Hilton family...Paris, Nicky, mom and dad. Mrs. Hilton was asking me how much money I give to missions projects each year and was fascinated by the whole idea of tithing and giving. I wonder if dreams actually mean anything or if they are completely random.

- Today I saw a fantastic example of conflict resolution between co-workers. Somebody recognized they had been hurtful and was quick to make it right and ask for forgiveness. It's refreshing to see Christians act like Christ!

- I attended both Kayla and Cole's classroom award ceremonies today. Man, I love my kids!

- We are about a week away from our annual student ministries staff retreat in Palm Springs. 4 days of relaxing with the team and their spouses. Good times.

- Beginning the last weekend of June, we are switching our weekend service times for junior high and high school. We'll be adding an additional Saturday night service and only having one on Sunday morning. It's going to be a HUGE adjustment for church families but should set us up to reach more students in our community.

- On the table under my television sits the entire set of DVDs for the British version of The Office. My brother-in-law loaned them to me several months ago and now that there is absolutely nothing worth watching on T.V. it may be a good time to check 'em out.


Speaking to Students

I was asked to read the manuscript of a new book by Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins called Speaking to Teenagers: How to Think About, Create, and Deliver Effective Messages.

I'm only about 1/3 of the way through it, but I think it may turn out to be one of my favorite youth ministry books in a long, long time! It is so practical and full of incredible insights into preparing to speak to students. If you regularly teach a group of kids, you need to get this book when it is released!

For those of you who don't want to read an entire book, and believe that I'm probably smarter than Fields and Robbins combined, I offer my super short 'TEACHING 101' seminar below:

- The first minute is the most important minute.
- It doesn't need to be long to be good.
- If it's going to be long, it needs to be good.
- Students like to laugh.
- Students like stories (especially real life ones...not from an illustration book).
- Be real.
- Be relevant.
- When possible, include active learning ingredients. Students learn more when they experience it.
- Offer specific application steps.
- The last minute is also the most important minute.

Wow, that's the worst seminar you've ever attended! Good thing it was free.

I have no idea when their book is set for release, but I urge you to buy it when it's available. I really do think that by implementing some of Doug and Duffy's insight, you will be doing yourself and your students a favor.


Almost Home

As I post this I'm sitting in the drive thru of In 'N Out Burger in Riverside. We had a great trip...the best part really just being the road trip with the dudes.

My golf game was average, my wound is oozing. It will be good to be home in an hour or so.


Weekend Wrap Up

This is a tale of two days happening simultaneously. The usual weekend junior high festivities mingle with a comedy of Kurt Johnston errors.

Junior high festivities went great: A solid weekend (low attendance), followed by a fun family picnic.

The personal saga that was running parallel was a different story told in three chapters:

Chapter 1: OUCH!
In between our two Sunday morning services, I was climbing high about the ground in our JH storage area (a gated, fenced, enclosed area) and as I was climbing down, I decided to push off and jump backward the rest of the way like you down when climbing down a fence. All was fine until my butt landed on the corner of a piece of plywood sticking out from where it was being stored. I completely ripped the entire left side of my pants and my butt was totally exposed and there was a foot long gash running all the way up! To say it hurt would be an understatement. When my buddy, Matt Hall, looked at to "ASSes" the damage, he broke down laughing like a little baby. Today, my butt is swollen and sore.

Chapter 2: LOST!
After church, I was shopping for the picnic and put my Cell phone in a nifty little tray in the shopping cart created just for such items. Of course I left it there and didn't realize it till several hours later. I called the store and they hadn't seen it.

Chapter 3: DANG!
I got to the park with a truckload of supplies only to find the parking lot completely packed due to a soccer tourney. I decided to back into a handicapped spot just long enough to unload the gear so I could avoid lugging it too far. As I was unloading, a policeman came up and starting writing a ticket! I tried to explain that I wasn't 'Parked' in a handicap spot but was just 'unloading' he told me there is zero tolerance and proceeded to write me a $275.00 ticket!

But now I'm in Phoenix for two days of golf with friends so all is well. As long as my butt lets me swing a golf club.


The Annual WOW Awards

Tonight is our 3rd annual WOW Awards Ceremony. The WOW Awards is a night put on by our church to honor our volunteers. We run it sorta like an Academy Awards night with hosts, presenters from each department etc. I never seem to look forward to it, and really don't think our junior high volunteers need the night because we do a pretty good job of honoring them all year round, but I always end enjoying the night and our volunteers do, too.

After the WOW Awards, we are having an after party at Fudruckers which will be a fun way to cap off the event. WOW..it's going to be a long night!


Junior High Ministry 101: The Importance Of 'The Feel'

A couple of years ago Chap Clark made the following comment at a gathering of middle school youth workers:

"In ministry to young teens, the feel of the ministry is more important than the content."

That comment launched us into a discussion around the idea that creating a ministry that feels safe, accepting, comforting, etc. is actually more important than the content you teach because of the crazy place young teens are at developmentally.

I think I agree with Chap. That isn't to say biblical instruction, learning doctrine etc. don't play a part in junior high ministry; they do. It is to say, however, that how a ministry feels to a young teen is equally important (so maybe I don't agree that it's 'more important', but that it is equally important). Creating positive memories, building relationships, creating a safe place to ask questions and share doubts, providing lots of experiential learning, surrounding students with caring adults etc. are crucial pieces of an effective junior high ministry.

If we can create an atmosphere in our ministry that is comfortable to junior highers during the 2-3 toughest years of their lives, we'll probably keep them around for years to come which will provide plenty of time for deeper content.

Worship Conference

Each year, at the end of June, our church hosts a fantastic worship conference. I know nothing about music, I have no idea what a good worship conference looks like, but people who do know that kind of stuff have told me that this conference is a great one. If you happen to be a local youth worker and are interested in taking some of your students, track me down. I can get you a special student rate that is not advertised on the website.


Weekend Wrap Up

I wasn't at church this weekend due to our anniversary escape and haven't heard the details.

- It was the last weekend for Stephen Perry, an intern who is on his way to a full time middle school position in West Palm Beach. He spoke, and I'm sure he did a great job.

- We opened up registration for all of our Summer events, camps as well as small groups for next year.

That's about all I know. Rachel and I borrowed a convertible bug (thanks, Karen) for the weekend and spent two super lazy days driving around the beach, visiting open houses, eating good food and enjoying each other's company. church really was the farthest thing from my mind!


Random Ramblings

- Sixteen years ago today, I married the beautiful Rachel Salzman. Today Rachel Johnston is more beautiful than ever.

- I took the weekend off for our anniversary, but we can't figure out what to do.

- We're beginnng to look for ways to make our student ministries team feel a little more like one team instead of two competely seperate silos. It feels challenging and I'd love to hear from anybody who has made progress in this area.

- Changing our youth service times in a couple of weeks to try to make room on campus on Sunday mornings: Our Current Youth Times are Saturday @ 6:30, Sunday @ 9:00, 11:15, 4:30
Our New Times: Saturday @ 4:30 & 6:30, Sunday @ 9:00.

- 'Pirates': I hate the ride at Disney Land, didn't really like the first movie, haven't seen the second, therefore have no desire to see the third.

- I knew this day would come: I'm getting burned out on Chic-Fil-A (the food, NOT the sweet tea).

- My son has really been struggling at school this year. At the same time, he has developed a love for guitar and seems to be excelling at it. Several months ago we agreed that if things turned around at school we would purchase an electric guitar. I'm thrilled that with only 2 weeks left in school, it looks like I need to find some guitar money.

- We've been wrestling with the fact that we charge over $350.00 for a week of Summer camp. It just feels like too much. I just received a brochure for a weeklong Christian surf camp. The cost: $1,200.00.