It was a dark night, much like tonight…that was how it usually started. One of the highlights of our annual pre-teen retreat was our time around the campfire. And that time was never complete without yours truly making up some sort of story to try to spook our 5th and 6th grade students before sending them off to “bed time”. It always amazed me how much they looked forward to this.
And then there was the time…that was how it usually started. For several weeks we had been meeting with our middle school students on Sunday nights to have what we called experiential worship. We would play some games and derive some sort of Spiritual truth. But the evening was never complete until yours truly began to recall stories of youth groups gone by and the shenanigans that my former students had gotten themselves into.
The crazy part is how much these middle school students hung onto every word in the midst of this story telling. Not only that, but years later they would recall details that I didn’t even remember. I even recall one bright-eyed seventh grader asking, “Do you think you will tell stories about us to someone else someday?” I can’t recall my response, but I am sure it was some sort of assurance that if you do something dumb enough you will make it into my record books. It’s always the dumb stories that stick with me the best.
But, what is it about story telling and the recollection of the past that has such power when it comes to Middle School Ministry? I think it has to do with their formation of identity. During the Middle School years there is so much physical, emotional and even spiritual change occurring in the lives of our students. Just Google identity formation and Middle School and you will be blown away by the amount of articles on the subject. But the truth behind all of this is that Middle School students just want to know they are not alone. That what they are experiencing or will soon be experiencing is “normal”. And stories have the power to reach into that blank space where our usual teachings might not.
So what do we do with this? We challenge our conventional ways of presenting the gospel. We temper and train ourselves to adequately express the truths of scripture and our faith through the lens of Middle School experiences. Maybe these become self-deprecating stories of your own adolescent experiences. Or maybe you recall stories of youth in the past. But I have come to see that there is no power like that of the connection to story. And stories that speak into the lives of middle school students right where they are have limitless potential for allowing them to find themselves and sparking their imagination for who they can become.