Middle School Director
Century Baptist Church, Bismarck, ND
It was the first day of middle school.
I walked in the front doors wearing my back-to-school outfit, excited to see my friends and begin our middle school experience together.
I waved to my friends standing at their lockers and proceeded to make my way over to them.
I was expecting a “hey,” or at least a wave back, but what followed was something that would come to define my identity, my purpose, and my belonging for many years to come.
No one said a word to me.
My “friends” looked at me and turned away. Their silence screamed this to me: you are not wanted; you do not matter; you do not belong.
For some people, this moment would be a small snapshot in their photo album of life (or maybe photo stream of life is more relevant for this generation), a moment to be easily brushed off and chalked up to typical teenage behavior. For me, this moment defined my middle school experience, my adolescent experience. This is why I believe in student ministry. This is why I have been called to student ministry for what I believe are all my days here on Earth.
Understanding the developmental and spiritual needs of teenagers is not just reserved for those called to full-time youth ministry or who volunteer in a youth ministry. This is for everyone. For every human being who calls themselves a child of God, our role is to speak into the next generation of disciples of Jesus, to walk alongside them, to equip them, to encourage them, and to empower them. Whether we are in a parenting role or a discipling role to a teenager, we have an important and crucial task ahead of us: “we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psalm 78:4 NIV).
Every teenager, in fact every human who has ever existed and will ever exist, is looking for the answers to these questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? Why am I here? These questions begin in adolescence and can continue for a lifetime. These questions begin to formulate in the mind of a teenager right around the time they begin middle school and can continue until the late twenties and early thirties. These questions keep teenagers awake at night. These questions drive teenagers to make decisions that have negative consequences. These questions propel teenagers into social groups they might have never chosen before.
This is where the role of student ministry in the church matters. This is where the voice of an older disciple of Jesus matters, because there are teenagers sitting in your church or living across the street or halfway across the globe from you who need to know they are loved by God, they matter to God, and they belong to God, all through the abounding grace and love of Jesus Christ.
As a middle school ministry at Century Baptist Church, there are three statements we want each and every one of our students to remember: you are loved; you matter; you belong. We speak these three things constantly from the front, we strategically program our events around them, and we speak them daily into our students. Teenagers everywhere need to be reminded of these truths every day. The reality is that this generation, Generation Z, is the most stressed out generation yet. Their number one stressor is the fear of failing, of letting someone down. Another reality of this generation that we as ministry leaders must ponder is that more teenagers in this generation than in any other claim to have no religious affiliation. They don’t associate with a religion or a church. Should this cause the Church concern? Yes, but it shouldn’t cause us to hide in our bunkers and shake our fist at the sky. It should send us out. It should send us out into our schools as coaches to speak the truth about where value and identity are found. It should send us out across the world to a war-torn country where teenagers are losing their lives every day. It should stir in us a passion to see a generation rise up, knowing exactly who they are and Whose they are.
Church, we are called to this and we have been equipped for this. Youth ministry isn’t just for those who have a vocational calling to it; we are all called as disciples of Jesus to tell the story of the God who saves, the God who sees us, the God who has called us, and the God who knows us. Let’s rise up, cross the street, cross the ocean, or maybe just cross the hallway and tell a teenager these truths that are our freedom in Christ Jesus: you are loved; you matter; you belong.