Standing In the “Middle” of the Crossroads
By Dan Istvanik
Have you ever pulled up to a busy stoplight to find that the lights have failed and in the middle of the intersection stands a police officer redirecting and pointing cars? The process works, but only if there’s someone who understands what’s happening and offering instruction. Otherwise, the situation quickly becomes a traffic jam.
Youth ministry has found itself at a similar crossroads. Somehow in the journey of the child from children’s ministry into high school, a growing percentage of students are getting lost before high school. Research shows that only about 15% of youth are accepting life-long faith after that age of 13.
We are missing the “ministry in the middle”. While great resources are being written for both children’s ministry and the teen years, there is a continual blank space in the years in the “Middle Years”, 5th-9th grade.
Businesses and advertisers have woken up to the importance this group in the recent years, shifting their money and marketing toward this group, to sway them to purchase their stuff. While the church still stands at the end of the road heading into adulthood wondering, “Where are the kids?”
It is time that we in youth ministry and the church, stand in the “middle” of the crossroads of culture, faith, life, and start directing traffic in the middle of these two streets.
Street #1: Creativity
The late childhood years and the beginning of the adolescent years are a season marked by childhood wonder. It’s also a time of intense mental development. The middle year brain is similar to that of a developing toddler’s, and has creative centers that are exploding. This may be a difficult brain to manage, especially for those seeking to stand in the gap between children’s ministry and high school ministry in a church setting, with limited resources or budget. How do we manage that transition with the emerging adult? Here are some helpful re-directions.
Re-directing Toward Creativity:
- “Allow youth to Draw Conclusions”, skipping the note taking and allow them to draw an illustration of what you are teaching in a lesson. Drawing allows emerging adults to process more feely.
- “Get Graphic”, more than speaking at them or using a plain slide presentation use age- appropriate images, designs, and even silly pictures. Even better, ask students to create images or designs that you can use as your background.
- “Let them Play”, one of the most powerful ways to learn is by physically doing. Games are a physical way to “do”. Game are effective illustrations, interactions, and connections.
Street #2: Culture
While we may think of them as too young to take on big cultural issues, your students are already playing in the middle of the sometimes dangerous “cultural intersection”. Taking a look, we can even see middle year students are actually cultural influencers. The most popular show this year, Stranger Things, is a story about middle year kids, played by middle year actors. The winners of America’s Got Talent… a 12 year old girl!
While the church often seems at odds with culture, pointing out God in culture and pointing students into culture will signal a new way for the future.
Re-directing Toward Culture:
- “Screen Time”, using movie clips, TV show snippets, and even short viral videos in lessons can connect the culture of their world to the culture of their belief. Even beyond formal lesson times, posting short clips on social media with a question or verse continues the cultural dialog.
- “Talk About It”. What we don’t say teaches as much as what we teach. In age-appropriate ways we need to talk about cultural issues. By not talking about them, we are teaching our young students that either the Bible doesn’t apply or that our faith does not hold up in culture.
- “Create Culture”, by allowing your ministry to become a place to belong, become, and believe. The attraction of culture that is changing the direction of young people’s lives is because it is steering them to places where they can belong, have a chance to become something and shape their belief. Creating a culture based on word of God and the people of God in your ministry instead, will help them navigate the crossroads of these years and future.
Stand up and stand out in the middle of the traffic of the 5th to 9th grade years. Students need people like you to give them Godly direction and instruction as they try to navigate the present crossroads and get ready for the future roads ahead of them.
DAN ISTVANIK is the 5th to 8th-grade pastor at Victory Church in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 22 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting he is a speaker, coach and a lead content writer for MinistrytoParents and Youth Specialties, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources. Additional he shares daily his 5th-9th grade ministry specific resources, and hints on his site “The Middle Years” at WWW.MIDDLEYEARSMINISTRY.COM