British mustache

One of my favorite twitter hash-tags to use is #ilivewithayouthgroup.  Like the time that my son told me he decided his nickname should be “Thunder,” or the other day when my daughter decided to have an in depth conversation on how often the average person poops in any given week.  I have 3 kids at home: 6th, 7th, 8th grade.

When you spend 24/7 with a JH youth group you learn a few things about the JH student:

Emotions Have No Filter

If they are angry they rage.  If they are sad they cry.  (Truthfully, sometimes they don’t even know why they are crying.)  If they are happy they are acting silly.  It’s like you are stuck in the middle of a really, over the top “made for television drama.”   It’s our job as parents and pastors to help them learn what to do with all of these “feelings” and how to react to them well. They don’t have to feel out of control all the time. It takes a lot of talking and willingness to be patient.

Questions And Wrestling

It started around age 9 or 10.  Being told what to believe is no longer enough. Even if they are the student who answered with all the “right” answers their whole life,  now they are uncertain about their faith.  “How do I know, that I know, that I know Jesus loves me?” “Can you promise me God hears my prayers?” They need to know doubting is not a sin.  We simply can’t gloss over anything they ask,  they are hungering to know the truth and how to follow Christ for themselves.

Appearance Is Everything:

It’s about fitting in and flying under the radar.  Going into school everyday is like jumping ship into a sea of piranha.  There is self-preservation to the umpteenth degree that runs from changing in gym class to ensuring a wrong word is never uttered.   In many ways this age is the epitome of “fake it,” till’ you fit in just enough to breath.

A Safe Place to Use My Fake British Accent:

Every single JH student is an individual.  They have their own personalities, likes and dislikes. There are so many places they feel like they “have to” be someone,  they want a safe place to let down and just be themselves. They need us to let them use their fake British accents around the dinner table, because they think it’s hilarious.

Don’t Call Me A “Tween:”

They are asking you to hide their stuffed animal at the end of their sleeping bag for Fall retreat so no one will find it. At the same time they are noticing girls/guys in a way that makes them blush.  Most importantly, they still want their Mom & Dad. Every night bedtime takes over an hour, much longer than when they were little. Why? Each of my kids likes to take this time to talk and pray with my husband and I individually about their day, life and their future. (It’s my favorite time of day.)

This age is a crazy one and the moment you realize that in just seven or eight years they are supposed to be “grown ups,” you realize they need us all. This JH age is a time of decisions.   Will I choose that narrow path, or is the wide gate just an easier option? Our role is to ensure they know that one path is mighty lonely without Jesus.

However, if you really want to know, just follow the hash-tag.

What are you learning about the JH age by working with them?


simple truthJeff and I had the opportunity to be a part of a pretty amazing project that came out a couple of months ago. It is called the “Simple Truth Bible.”  This is a multi- author devotional,  purposed to help youth start reading the Word,  for themselves.

So often when we are trying to inspire students (especially those in survival mode) to press into Christ,  we aren’t sure how to best serve them. Our answer is often to teach a Bible Study or a program that enables students to “hear” more about Jesus,  or even talk out their questions.  However,  in addition we need to “inspire” them to learn to seek God for themselves.  If you are a young person who doesn’t know where to begin in the Bible this can seem overwhelming.  How many times have we heard students talk about  how they “tried” to read the Bible BUT:

  • “I didn’t understand it.”
  • “I got bored.”
  • “I can’t find the time.”

That is what we love about the “Simple Truth Bible.”  In a couple of minutes each day a student is introduced to a passage,  an explanation,  a prayer and a challenge.  There is enough for every day of the year,  with no dates attached.  There is no “pressure”  to stick to the time table or guilt if you fall off.  It is purely a motivation for those who need to begin steps towards allowing  God’s Word to change them.

As we have used it with our own students we have found it actually works wonderfully for youth from about ages 11 and up.  For those who are doubting.  For those who want to “get into the habit.”  For those we know need to seek for themselves.  We can say,  “Try this.”    It is transforming.   I have students who are pondering the Bible before they go to school and through out their day.  They are learning it isn’t about us “teaching them.”  They are learning more about who the Lord is for themselves.

Alright- Here’s my sales pitch.

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I admit it- I thought it was a great idea.  However, I really had no clue how it would work with my students who often have never cracked a Bible open in their lives.  I started giving them away.  My students are loving it.  They are telling their friends,  and more kids are asking for one.  Best part is- they are asking if they can have some to give away themselves.  Crazy right?

God always proves that HIS WORD IS POWERFUL!  There is no age limit for what he will do!

Just curious to see if your 6th graders are included in your youth ministry or not – in our context right now several of the area schools have moved to middle school (that includes 6th graders) while we have remained our traditional junior high ministry (7th and 8th only). Not sure if there is a significant advantage one way or the other – would love to hear your thoughts in the comments and vote now!


I don’t know if you’ve heard about the Middle School Ministry Campference coming this fall (October 14-16, 2011) – it is a brand new event designed specifically for junior high/middle school youth workers, and it is a conference…and camp! So normal stuff like general sessions, workshops and great music – but also free-time activities like zip lines, paintball, ropes course etc. Sounds like fun … here’s a quick 3-question interview with Mark Oestreicher, one of the minds behind it:

1) Tell me about your observations about junior high ministry that led you to create this atmosphere for junior high youth workers to get recharged, trained and encouraged?
We junior high youth workers tend to have a paradoxical combination of total passion for what we do combined with an inferiority complex. In so many churches (and at so many youth ministry events), young teen ministry is seen as the youth ministry equivalent of that strange little homeschool kid you just wish someone else would deal with. But, man, we know. We know how critical and powerful this ministry is. We’ve seen how formative these middle school years are, and how students often choose a path for life. At the end of the day, being in a room with a bunch of people who share my strange and unique calling — who get me — is my happy place. A tribal gathering of junior high peeps sounds like a slice o’ heaven to me.

2) Sounds fun! What makes this more camp and less conference? And why wasn’t I invited?
You weren’t invited because you’re a high school sell-out, dude. Good luck with that “corrective ministry” while we kick it in our “preventive ministry.” (Actually, you – and other HS youth workers – would be more than welcome. Someone doesn’t have to be a full-time junior high person to join us — they just have to want to learn and contribute, and be with this awesome tribe.)

We thought about having a more traditional conference. But Kurt Johnston and I were chatting about it, and we thought we needed to do something unique. We decided that ‘camp for junior high youth workers’ was just the ticket. We’ll combine some of the best aspects of a conference (fantastic main sessions and seminars) with some things we couldn’t do elsewhere (experiential learning, for example) and the vibe of a camp (all our meals together, tons of wicked-awesome fun stuff to do that you can never fully enjoy when you’re responsible for a group of 12 year-olds).

3) Tell me a great, quick story that junior high youth workers out there would appreciate. Preferably something gross and/or silly.
Two quick ones:
1. My 8th grade guys small group was recently putting together our own “creed” — things we knew to be true. It was full of pithy statements like “Respect is earned” and “Maturity takes time.” But they insisted on including a very important final statement of what our small group collectively believes: “Farting is best done outside.”
2. I was standing in the baptismal, interviewing Blake in front of the congregation (just remembered this story the other day). I asked him, “Blake, tell us what difference your faith made when your dad died.” He responded, “Well, it made it suck less.” Ah, junior highers — gotta love that truth-telling, baby.



I am a youth pastor who oversees and teaches 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students. And anytime I prepare to teach a passage of the Bible to them, these are some of the first books I grab. Here’s why these are some of my essentials for teaching:

  • The ESV Study Bible — I use this because it has a very comprehensive section of notes which helps me keep my message on track with the Biblical context. Plus, it gives me other ideas of points I may have missed.
  • The IVP Bible Background Commentaries — I use these because they unpack the cultural background of everything that happens in a passage. So when you read, for example, in Ruth 4 that the kinsman-redeemer took off his sandal and gave it to Baoz, you get 150 words or more on the cultural meaning of this action at the time it was written. This is indispensable for knowing what’s going on and for helping contextualize it for a younger audience.
  • The Illustrated Guide To Bible Customs & Cultures — I use this because it has pictures. And it’s not as heady as the IVP Commentaries.
  • Zondervan’s Teen Study Bible — I’ll check in here to see if there are any teen-friendly explanations/illustrations of a certain part of Scripture. When they do, it’s usually pretty helpful for my audience (and is often something I hadn’t originally thought of).
  • The Student Bible — The one pictured above is the same Bible I used when I was a student in a youth ministry. The publisher put in some short student-friendly thoughts, but this Bible also has my notes and markings from when I was a student. It helps me remember what was important to me when I was the same age as my audience.
  • The Message//Remix — I don’t teach from this translation, but I read it as I prepare to pick up any other nuance I may have missed in the previous resources.

I pull these books off the shelf each week as I prepare to teach my students the truths of God’s Word. And for me, I’ve found them to be essential teaching tools in youth ministry.

Sean Kahlich is the Mid-High Youth Minister at The Kirk of the Hills — check out his youth ministry blog called Awaiting Epiteleo.

As a youth pastor, I don’t get to spend alot of time watching TV mostly because I get home to my apartment really late on most nights. One of my favorite shows, however, happens to come on in the midnight hours at 12:35am every weeknight: Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. It’s a perfect end to my workday after hours of studying, meetings, school lunches, planning, and writing. Though many of us are still mourning the loss of Conan O’Brian from the late night lineup (and booing Jay Leno, of course), Jimmy is breath of fresh air to an otherwise cookie-cutter program lineup. His years on Saturday Night Live and phenomenal impression comedy put him on the map as the potential host for the third-generation of Late Night. But even as I pass out on my couch watching Jimmy Fallon every weekday night, I cannot help but think about some creative youth ministry parallels (*my nerdy, ministerial mind never takes a break…), especially in the area of middle school ministry.

Middle School ministry is fairly new to me as a pastor. I’ve been a part of a youth ministry that had a middle school gathering and even read a few books on the subject, but nothing is more daunting than actually launching and growing a middle-school ministry from scratch. I’ve always leaned toward the high school and young adults as my primary strength in ministry. New opportunities, however, have recently presented themselves that have gotten me excited as a new middle school pastor. The adventure of beginning a new phase and expanding my professional boundaries is quite compelling. In fact, we just launched our 7th and 8th grade ministry this month at Trinity Worship Center. All pastors learn ministry from someone. Currently, I’m being mentored in middle school ministry by none other than Jimmy Fallon. Here’s why:

1) Personality: Be Yourself!
What I love most about Jimmy Fallon is his personality appeal on the show. He’s just an average Joe like all of us. He laughs at the same things we do. He’s impressed by the same things we are. He’s real and isn’t afraid to be himself. Many times he’ll crack up at his own jokes or completely ruin a skit just because it’s so side-splittingly funny. If you look at some of the old SNL skits, you can see Jimmy cracking up in the background when Will Ferrell is riffing in classic form. When a joke falls flat in his opening monologue, he’ll often give an audience member the cue card as a confession of comedic failure. Many critics ridicule Fallon because they say “he’s just a normal guy who happened to get lucky with a talk show that he doesn’t deserve.” But that’s exactly why I think he’s the perfect guy for the part.

In middle school ministry, I’m learning that being yourself is EVERYTHING. It’s really easy to get caught up in being cool or trendy and miss out on what students are really looking for: a regular guy (or girl) who can be their real selves. One doesn’t have to be a “ministry hipster,” phenomenal communicator, or deep, engaging speaker in middle school ministry. Students need someone who will spend time with them, love life with them, embrace them when no one else will, and laugh at the same things they laugh at (farts, burps, and YouTube viral videos). A good middle school leader operates in honesty and admits it when something goes wrong (to which we hand the cue card off and move on). Being yourself means learning and settling into the flow of your personality and using it as your greatest ministry strength. Perhaps we are all just “normal” people that are gracefully given a ministry that we really don’t deserve.

2) Robert is Bothered: The Reality of Relevance
The very nature of talk shows demands relevance. The interviews are always about upcoming movie releases, album drop dates, or season premiere television shows. Nobody does it better than Jimmy Fallon. Even his comedy sketches in the second part of the show represent the cutting edge relevancy of his show. At the time that “The Hills” was at its pinnacle, Fallon did a series of parodies called “7th Floor West,” where he mocked the dramatic MTV show. From time to time, he’ll do a “fist-pump” during a Roots song a la “Jersey Shore.” One of my favorite running sketches now is “Robert is Bothered,” where Fallon imitates Twilight star Robert Pattinson as he climbs a tree to reflect on various things that bother him (i.e. The World Cup, iPad, and Halloween candy just to name a few). Go check out the “Robert is Bothered” videos here! The fact that all of these segments play on the current culture simply adds to the hilarity of the show.

To be fair, relevancy is overemphasized in the church no doubt. There are countless books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble highlighting the need for relevancy in today’s culture. There’s actually a slew of books that have tried to counter the thought, so much that it’s becoming “relevant” to criticize progression and relevancy. Interesting…Though the principle may be overemphasized, it doesn’t change the reality of it. Relevancy is a part of today’s ministry world, especially in middle school youth ministry. I’m a young, 21-year old pastor and I’m finding with each growing year that even I have to strive to be creative in relevancy. I first realized this when I made a Forrest Gump reference in a sermon that fell flat on its face. Forrest Gump!!! Are you kidding me?!?! Everyone has seen Forrest Gump! Well apparently not. I forget that Forrest Gump was released in 1994 when I was 6 and all of my middle school students were born in 1996-1998. They weren’t even thought of when Forrest Gump was released. Whoa! Wake up call…I’m getting old! It used to be that I measured my decades based on the millennial change. But now, the 90s aren’t 10 years ago, but 20! With that said, we have to reorient our thoughts on what exactly is a “classic.” Sure, our students should see Forrest Gump at some point in their lives. But we also have to remember that Twilight and Justin Bieber are at the forefront of “classic” culture now, not Independence Day and Tupac. It starts with putting ourselves in their “cool” shoes and realizing that ours should find their worthy place in our glass memory boxes, no matter how hard that is to hear.

3) Lick It For Ten: The Thrill of Competition and Interaction
If you watch Late Night enough times in a week, you will almost always see some ridiculous form of competitive game played. Everything from playing golf throughout the studio to ice-covered cornhole to a good old-fashioned game of air hockey. Segments like Lick-It-For-Ten and other games make Jimmy Fallon’s show unique. Again, this quirky style of behavior is what separates those who love and hate the show. Nevertheless, it seems that the thrill of competition keeps with the offbeat nature of the new Late Night series.

I’m willing to bet that no matter how gifted of a communicator a middle school leader may be, he or she can’t just drone through a 25-minute sermon without interaction fom the students. If you don’t believe me, try it…you’ll get humbled really quickly. Due to the rambunctious, crazy nature of middle school students, a competitive icebreaker game or interactive element is a perfect addition for a sermon. When talking about Gideon as a mighty warrior, don’t just describe the historical significance of being weak and from the smallest tribe in Israel. Get the smallest kid to challenge your biggest youth leader (who happened to be the NC Arm-Wrestling Champion in 1979) in a 2-out-of-3 arm wrestling match, and let the kid win! Though it doesn’t have a lot to do with the background exegetical process that your hermeneutics professor taught you about, it still illustrates a point of being a small, weak warrior and overcoming great odds. This is not to mention that it builds self-esteem and essentially provides a commercial break to your sermon, adding almost 10 minutes to their short attention spans. In middle school ministry, Interaction is EVERYTHING! I played air hockey with a student after service last week for a few minutes and it immediately created a bonding point. He asked if next time we could play for eyebrows (loser shaves their eyebrows). Though I declined, he later sent me a picture message where he shaved his left eyebrow off. I hope he was kidding…

4) Thank-You Notes: The Art of Appreciation
Every late-night show has its classic segment. For Jay Leno it’s the Headline list. David Letterman hosts the Top 10 on a weekly basis. For Jimmy Fallon, the “Thank-You Note” segment on Friday nights has become quintessential for his installment of Late Night. He writes out thank-you notes on the show as an appreciation to all of things that provided him with comedy bits and illustrations throughout the week (all with sentimental music from The Roots). For the latest “Thank You Notes” segment, click here.

Affirmation and appreciation is key in all areas of middle school ministry. Celebrating a student’s achievements and spiritual growth is essential. Keep in mind that you may be the only person in their life that is encouraging and uplifting. So take every opportunity to show your middle schoolers how much you appreciate them for who they are. Take this principle a step further: show your leaders that you appreciate them! You can’t do this ministry thing alone. Understand that you can trust your leaders to carry the torch when you can’t. They have ideas, thoughts, and reflections that need to be heard just as much as yours. They spend their valuable time holding your arms up so you can effectively do your job. Your leaders will make or break your success in middle school ministry, so make sure they feel appreciated! Write personalized, thank-you notes to them every once in a while. Take your leaders out to eat occasionally, go to a movie together, and most importantly, pray for them! Appreciation is a classic art that must be rediscovered and should become a regular thing.


I hope you’ll never be able to watch Late Night With Jimmy Fallon the same. I encourage all of you who go to bed at a decent hour to fight the fatigue and watch an episode or two (or you can DVR it!). You may learn a few things from someone unexpected, who is probably unaware of his own influence in the world of middle school ministry. So be yourself, challenge your creativity with relevance, throw in a bit of competition and interaction, and learn the lost art of appreciation.

Most of all, remember…”iPads BOTHER ME!”

Bradley K. Chandler is a graduate of Southeastern University and is the Student Ministries Pastor at Trinity Worship Center in Burlington, NC. Be sure to subscribe to his blog here – good stuff for sure.