Making Middle Schoolers Suffer Through Church (pt 2)

The whole middle schoolers in church thing is something I think about a lot. You can read more here and here .  It would be dumb for me to not think long and hard about what it means to have (or to have not) Sunday morning programs for middle school students. I take this subject seriously because...

 1) I am a mom of a middle schooler. 
 2) I am a middle school pastor. 
 3) I am married to a middle school teacher. 
 4) We are a family who loves to see middle schoolers GROW in their own faith. 

Yes, sometimes I miss the Sunday morning middle school worship services I've spent the majority of my youth ministry years being in charge of. Yet lately now that I get to see and experience how Sundays can be without Sunday morning student programming, I am kind of blown away. In a really good way.

To experience what it's like to be a part of a church taking seriously “Sticky Faith” by removing Sunday morning youth programs and moving all student ministry programs to a one night (and ONLY one night) a week model has been awesome. Good stuff is happening when students worship with their parents. "Sticky Faith" experiences are happening. Moving families in the direction of practicing faith together by...

1) Attending worship together. Students not only see their parents engage in faith practices like worship, opening scripture, prayer, communion, but get to participate with them in these things.

2) It’s not always a win, but when it is, it’s a BIG win.

Yesterday (a Sunday morning) I chased my 2 year old all over the building. We made a stop (during the worship service) over to the welcome center in the church lobby. There were 3 middle schoolers hanging out over there watching Youtube videos, cartoons, and a webcam from an Aquarium in Florida (I’ve discovered Michiganders have a thing for Florida). I casually asked them what they usually do during service and all of them basically said the same thing...hang out in the lobby or help in kids ministry. “We don’t want to be in the service. We don’t understand the teaching.” Translated... We’d rather be out here playing on the computers.

I began to (again) ponder about the whole no Sunday morning middle school program thing. Wondering what awesome teaching was going on in the Shed. I was pretty confident these middle schoolers would benefit from this morning's teaching if they were inside with their parents. I watched a few Youtube videos with them while my 2 year old played on a computer next to us. Church was soon over and I joined my family after the service. My own middle schooler who doesn’t have the “hang out in the lobby” option was outside spray painting in the church parking lot with his dad. The two of them had worshiped together. They sat in church together. They listened to the teaching (which was awesome by the way!) together. Now they were outside participating in a reflective art project together. As part of the teaching, everyone was invited to go outside and spray paint their “no” Whatever was causing them to doubt, question, or really struggle with when it comes to faith. An invitation to see doubt a necessary (and ok) step towards faith.

Here is where the beauty of having middle schoolers in church was undeniable. As I walked into this moment of experiential worship in the church parking lot my 12 year old looked over at me and said "I never knew it was ok to doubt until today." In my head I was like...gee Pastor Kyle and I just taught the same thing last week in our middle school programs...weren’t you listening kid? Yet it was on this Sunday in the Shed when invited to “spray paint” your “NO” when it truly sunk in for him. Something the middle schoolers in the lobby missed out on.

Participatory worship is a beautiful thing. The interactive opportunity to spray paint and interact with the teaching with a “hands on” experience was powerful. After church I went on a walk with my husband. Enjoying our first over 40 degree weather since moving to Michigan. What we found on our walk? A huge amount of (freshly painted) spray painting that had not been there before. Some broken hearted teenager spray painted a ton of Black Veil Bride lyrics all over a bridge on our walking trail. For better or for worse, spray painting is how students love to proclaim what’s on their mind and in their heart.  Our teaching pastor created a win for everyone. 

— with Josh Abbas (a middle schooler) at Mars Hill Bible Church.

The "spray painted" bridge near our home we found on our walk after church. 


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