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I was in college studying to become an architect when I was asked by my local Youth for Christ director to try my hand at working with junior high kids. I was given the assignment primarily because I didn't have enough experience to work with high school students. The idea was for me to learn how to do youth ministry by practicing on junior highers--then I could move up to the big time.
I learned, all right. I learned, first of all, that I was wasting my time studying architecture. I had been smitten by these junior high kids (was that the call of God?). The next thing I knew I was trading in my drafting tools for a guitar and a silk screen. (Back in those days, folk music was the rage and those silk-screened psychedelic posters were hot.) I was definitely on my way to a career in youth ministry.
But I also learned a couple of other things. First, I learned that junior highers deserve more than inexperienced, untrained youth workers. Second, I discovered that contrary to popular opinion, junior highers are people, too--special people, in fact--who are going through a very special time of life. Having made this discovery, I decided to become a junior high specialist. I eventually got my promotion to the big time (I did get to work with high schoolers), but over the years, my passion has remained junior high ministry.
I hope that this book will help you to understand where that passion comes from. As you read I hope you'll be able to sense the high regard I have for both junior highers and the adults who work with them. I also hope you notice that I have a little different take on adolescence than many people who write books about today's young people. Because I am not a psychologist who spends a disproportionate amount of time around troubled teenagers, I don't consider troubled teenagers to be the norm. I believe that the vast majority of teenagers are great kids who are basically doing fine--or at least could do fine with a little adult support and guidance along the way. Many adults nowadays avoid teenagers because of the bad publicity they have been getting. I believe a major reason teenagers today are involved in more negative behaviors than ever before is because they have been labeled as a uniquely rotten generation. In recent times, they have been called Baby Busters, Generation X-ers, Slackers, and all sorts of derogatory names that only discourage kids. It is my opinion that kids will live up--or down--to whatever expectations we have of them. If we stereotype kids and expect them to be bad, we shouldn't be surprised when they do bad things. But if we treat them with respect and give them the support they deserve, we may be surprised to see how much good they can do. I am bullish on teenagers, and I am convinced that the crucial time for helping teenagers become all that they can be is during early adolescence--the junior high and middle school years.
This book is based largely on my personal experience, but I have attempted to reinforce my experience with the experience of hundreds of other youth workers who have taught me a great deal over the years. I am also a student of adolescence. I am constantly trying to learn more about kids as I watch them, talk with them, and listen to what they are saying. In addition I have benefited greatly from reading and studying the current research on adolescence and the many good books and other resources that are now available.
It has been said that one of the best ways to learn about something is to teach it, and I have discovered this is true. I have been teaching people how to work with junior highers for almost a quarter of a century. Being a teacher of junior high ministry has forced me to organize my thoughts on this subject and this book is a direct result of that.
This is the third edition of Junior High Ministry. The first edition was written in 1978, the second in 1987. The times have changed, and so has junior high ministry. I'm a little older (well, actually, a lot older), hopefully a little wiser, and I now have had the additional experience of raising a few junior highers of my own. So because of the changes in junior high ministry, and changes in me, this book bears little resemblance to the original. This edition contains several new chapters, including one on involving parents in junior high ministry, and another on developing a mentoring program. There is new material on programming for junior highers, youth culture trends, faith development, and a new listing of resources. And throughout the book, I have edited, updated, deleted, refined, and clarified. Hopefully you'll agree that the net result is a greatly improved book.
I must say that I have been encouraged overall by what has been happening in junior high ministry since the original book was written 20 years ago. At that time, few people took junior high ministry seriously. It was more or less the bad joke of youth work. For those who did take it seriously, there were few resources to use. But that has changed. More people are getting involved in junior high work and more quality resources are being published. Today it is safe to say that a major trend in youth work is an increased awareness of and commitment to junior high ministry.
While I have tried to be thorough in this book, it is not intended to be exhaustive or the final word on junior high ministry. Nor is it intended to replace any of the outstanding books currently available on adolescent psychology and youth ministry. It is a look at junior high ministry in the local church from one veteran's point of view. I only hope that this book will complement the work of others. It covers most of the basics, as I see them, and is designed to stimulate and to challenge both the experienced and the inexperienced junior high worker in the church. Of course, my greatest hope is that a lot of junior high kids will benefit.