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Junior High 101: Warm Showers and Root Beer

 —  September 3, 2013 — 8 Comments

RootBeerTabAt Summer camp last month, one of our counselors faced a classic dilemma but at an increased level of intensity. One of the 7th grade boys in his cabin was homesick. But this young man wasn’t the “normal” kind of homesick. He was the “kicking, screaming, face-melting, I’m gonna break things if I don’t get to go home” kind of homesick.  Faced with that scenario, what would you have done? I know what I would have done, and it wouldn’t have been as wise and warm as the response of his counselor (my response would have included some sort of mocking and shame…but that’s for another article).

First, the counselor decided to call the young man’s parents to get their input. We have a fairly strict “No calls home” policy, so HE made the phone call instead of allowing the boy to. He enlisted the dad’s advice which was, “Tell Junior that we love him and miss him and that he is absolutely not coming home.” Way to go, Dad! The counselor then delivered this “bad news” to his young friend and followed it up with what I believe was the best youth ministry question of the summer, “Since you can’t go home, is there anything I can do for you to help you make it through the night?”

The answer is one of the reasons I love junior high ministry so much.

“Well, I think a warm shower and a root beer would work,” the student replied.

So while Junior took a warm shower, his counselor made a late-night trek to the vending machine and bought the most strategic root beer in the history of youth ministry. Problem solved. The evening routine for the rest of the week? A warm shower followed by a root beer night cap.

This little story reminds me of numerous junior high ministry principles, especially this one:

Junior high ministry is made up of all sorts of junior highers, and that requires us to be willing to minister in all sorts of ways.

A mistake junior high youth workers often make is viewing every young teen through the same developmental lense. While it’s true that, for the most part, the junior highers in your ministry are going through the same developmental changes, they are going through them in vastly different ways.

Some students need you to talk to them about sex and dating.

Some students need you to nudge them toward their next spiritual step.

Some students need you to help them see themselves as normal.

Some students need you to coach them on their friendship choices.

Some students… well, some students just need a warm shower and a root beer.


Kurt Johnston

Kurt Johnston


Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

8 responses to Junior High 101: Warm Showers and Root Beer

  1. Leneita Fix

    As the mother of three JHers i can’t tell you how much I appreciate this simple post. One is such a perfectionist she took an hour to organize her locker for the first day of school. One is uber competitive to the point that they beat themselves up if they don’t get everything right the first time. One is a spitfire who told a bully last year to step off. They all need something different- just like us adults do :)

  2. Travis Trueblood September 4, 2013 at 8:32 am

    Great post! Challenged to think through what my own kids need help “getting through” and how I can best help them. Thanks for the challenge, Kurt!

  3. Ha! I had an 8th grade girl on a mission trip that required us to sleep on air mattresses and after 3 nights she declared that she was DONE. She said she was not made to “camp.” Keep in mind that the building we were staying in was air conditioned! She was ready to call mom and dad and, knowing the parents, I told her that was a waste of breath. I did the same thing you did, asked what else I could do for her. Turns out all she needed was a Dr Pepper. She’s a senior now and still laughs about how I “saved her life” on a mission trip. Sometimes the solutions are much simpler than we think…

  4. Had this on a camping retreat trip once – his dad was actually the admin to the HS pastor, he also said no, I’m not coming to get you – his biggest lack of comfort was being outdoors, so he slept in the church van – led to have a two hour long conversations about where he was at spiritually and socially and ended up praying with him in the church van at 1 in the morning and him re-dedicating his life to Christ.

  5. Great post Kurt! I love how this story points out how easy it is to minister to junior high students. The solution (a warm shower and root beer) was simple yet probably meant a great deal to that student.

  6. This story is so spot on, it’s not even funny (actually it is). Thanks for the laughs and insights. Great article!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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