Most of us would agree that successful junior high ministry has very little to do with being young and cool; that a fancy youth room and impressive budget don’t matter to junior highers.Â We understand that junior highers really just want to be seen and heard….to be liked, by caring adults.
I’m reminded of this every single weekend when I watch one of our best volunteers (who happens to be my wife, Rachel) in action. Rachel understands the power of ministering with open eyes and open ears.Â Just this past weekend, I saw this simple strategy (she wouldn’t call it a strategy because it comes so natural to her, but for me, it is something I have to be very mindful about) play out several times during our junior high program:
- During service, she noticed a girl sitting all alone so grabbed a chair next to her. It was her first time, she felt overwhelmed and uncertain if she wanted to stay in the room or head up to find her parents in the adult service.Â Our daughter’s best friend was sharing her testimony in the high school program, and my wife had planned to slip out to cheer her on.Â She didn’t. And she told me after church that the reason why was because “I just couldn’t bring myself to walk away from the new girl knowing she didn’t yet feel completely comfortable.”
- After church, as the rest of us were busy picking up pencils, straightening out chairs and getting the room set for the next service, Rachel was off in a corner talking to a girl who at first glance was obviously a little “rough around the edges”. They talked, and talked, and talked.Â Finally Rachel began introducing her to those of us who were still lingering in the room.Â Turns out this 8th grade girl was visiting us for the second time and started coming as the result of breaking a two-year addiction to cocaine and her counselor telling her about the church (Rachel, of course knew the entire story of how she became an addict at such a young age, etc.).
- The instant the two of us walked out of the junior high gymnasium four high school girls, whom Rachel had taken a liking to and given extra attention when they were in junior high, rushed up to her and started updating her on their current happenings.Â This reunion, which happens almost every weekend, lasted about 10 minutes. Hugs were given and the girls headed on their way.
- We finally got around to leaving the church property.Â I headed to a buddy’s house to watch Motocross and Rachel headed to dinner with Shaya, a sophomore in high school who Rachel got to know a couple years ago because she noticed her sitting alone in our junior high room.
Even though Rachel has been a junior high youth worker for 20 years, she would tell you she usually feels unqualified. She is a middle-aged mother of two high schoolers, she doesn’t have a ton of time to contribute to the cause, and she doesn’t feel cool.Â But she is a master of the art of opening her eyes and opening her ears.
Looking for a training tip for your junior high volunteers?Â Train them on the power of open eyes (intentionally looking for students who may need some extra attention) and open ears (taking the time to listen well).Â Because I’m becoming more and more convinced that few things matter more.