Thursday, April 24, 2014

KEYS TO THE KINGDOM (how middle school ministry is unlocking the future of the church)-Part 2, Key #1-Thought

* PERSONAL NOTE: A couple weeks back I threw down a gauntlet, well...more like a set of keys and wrote that "Middle School Ministry" may be the key the church as been looking for to unlock its future (click here for part 1).  I have had some great responses and feedback, thank you all.  I hope the below, continues the conversations well and allows you to join me as I consider How Middle School Ministry IS Unlocking the Future of the Church in 1.) THOUGHT, 2.)Creativity,3.)Service, 4.)Belief....
 
CURRENT THOUGHT
I recently sat amazed and impressed as I watch a YouTube video of a 12 year old girl, expressing her thoughts and ideas about the much debated topic of abortion. She passionately and eloquently spoke with conviction that some might consider beyond her years.  As I watched and listen, my thought as a youth pastor working with students this ages was not that she spoke beyond her years, but that she spoke directly from her years...her middle school years.  The thing is she is not alone, there are more and more "middle school" young people who are standing up and asking for their thoughts and voices to be heard in the public forum.   Young people like thought innovators and Tedx speakers: Birke Baehr, Logan Laplant, or Thomas Suarez are raising their voices about what they see, hear and think! Thanks to our fast paced world of technology and communication young people, before they even hit their teen years can have a public voice.  The questions for us, in the church, are...

     - "Are Middle Schoolers Being Given a Public Voice Here?"
     - "Are Middle Schoolers Allowed To Share Their Thoughts Openly?
     - "Are We Listening?"
 
As I wrote in my previous post, we as the church for years have wrestled with terms, ideas and thoughts about where the church is going and what our future might look like.   Modern American church leaders have wrote books and formed whole groupings of churches around thoughts for the future of the church. Is it possible right in the "MIDDLE" of what we are seeking, sits a group of young believers AND thinkers in the middle school years (*previously defined as 5th Grade/10 years old to 9th Grade/15 years old).  Could it be possible as we try to think of ways to make sure we are staying relevant, there is a group of people who are sitting with the keys to relevant thought and culture in their hands?
 
CULTURAL THOUGHT
Consider the fact that the most popular brands of clothing for pre-teens and teens are also the most popular brands for adults as well! Walk into any store, anywhere for 10 minutes and listen... what do you hear, adult contemporary? oldies?...nope you hear Justin Beiber, One Direction, Taylor Swift or another popular middle school top 100 music!  Even think about the current religious culture and thought war that is happening at the theatres or in books?  What are the most popular books and movies in the past years based on--young teen novels (Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games,....)or pre-teen themes (Despicable Me, Toy Story, Frozen...)  Pre-teen, young teen, middle school cultural taste is pushing entertainment, culture and thought, if you, I, as adults in the church think about it for ourselves.  What that might mean is Christian thought might also be being influenced without our really realizing it?
 
 
CHRISTIAN THOUGHT
The "Middle Years" are a time of life when future forward THOUGHT, Creativity, Service and Belief take on life!
 
Middle School ministry is unlocking the future of the church,
 because it is literally shaping the thought of the those who are the future church.
 
I know that can be said about various different ministries, and I am sure there will be those who will be slightly offended.  I am not minimizing the importance or validity of any ministry or age-grouping in the church.  I am however challenging all of us to take a hard look at what age people start thinking autonomously and independently, while at the same time considering when people start having a decrease in creative and exploratory thought.
 
The years when true individual thought and conviction take hold are during the 5th Grade (10 years old) to 9th Grade (15 years old) years.  Once again the currently popular young teen book and now movie, Divergent show us this idea. The ability to have "divergent" thought takes hold in the pre and early teenage years. In that storyline it is what pushes a society to change, or at least to be challenged. Studies show that pre-teen years are the time of genius level divergent and creative thinking, but by the age of 13 only 10% of kids still have the capacity and by the age of 25 it has almost completely disappeared.   The first "key" idea of what the church needs in the future is new and fresh THOUGHT!? That is where middle year ministry sit, at the door of the future of individual faith and community faith life.
 
We have the privilege and challenge of  establishing and developing in students clear thinking, about life, themselves and faith.  We offer to them the keys to the kingdom of their own lives and faith and in turn we begin to unlock the future of the whole church.  It not something new or even that innovative.  It simply returning to historical understanding, cultural reality, and scriptural teaching. Historically, young people were willing to "Do Hard Things" even before they were barely into their teen years, young people like George Washington or Clara Barton.  Understand culturally the Rites of Passage that happen in Jewish culture at 12 years old and so many other cultures. Cultures where even before entering what we in American culture would term "teenagers", young people are already considered an "Adult".  Most importantly however are Biblical teaching.  Scriptural passages like Luke 18:17, Matthew 19:14, and especially Matthew 21:16.  show us that the youngest will be ones that lead the Kingdom!  Even a study of Biblical examples of middle year young people (Mary, David, Disciples, Daniel....) show us middle year young people leading the work of God forward, long before they hit what we would today consider late high school This should stick out to us as we Think through some of this and look to be more open and creatively thinking.
 
CREATIVE THOUGHT
This all leads us to an intersection of "Keys to the Kingdom" moving the key chain if you will from the key of thought to the key of creativity.... TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 3!!?