Last weekend I had the privilege of working with the middle school retreat at my church. As always, I was reminded of how much I love working with this age group.
Yes, I just admitted to enjoying working with middle schoolers.
I always have.
Looking out into their faces during worship times, while they were singing, or when they were listening to the speaker, I thought of my own life-shaping experiences at that age.
When I was growing up, youth group activities consisted of a Sunday night devo at somebody’s house where they served sandwiches and chips and cookies for us. It was considered a good night if they were tuna fish sandwiches.
Or even better, a cookout with hamburgers.
Occasionally we went to a youth rally somewhere. An all-day affair at a church across town. Or sometimes we got on the bus and drove to another town and spent a whole Saturday singing and listening to speakers.
And of course, every summer we went to Six Flags and walked around in wet jeans after getting drenched on the log ride.
But the main thing was, we were spending time with each other.
This weekend the kids had group activities in our gym and served the community by picking up trash and went swimming in one family’s pool. They stayed overnight together in different families’ homes so the incoming sixth graders could get to know the older kids and feel like they were a part of the youth group for the first time.
On Sunday morning we all took communion together and the youth minister reminded us of how essential we are to one another.
He wrote everyone’s name on a Jenga puzzle piece and talked about what happens when one of those pieces is missing.
The empty space makes it easier for us to fall through the cracks.
Jeremy reminded us that “some people aren’t here because they don’t feel like they belong. They don’t feel connected.
“What if we became known as a place where no one gets left behind or forgotten?”
Wow. Such an important lesson to learn at an age when you feel so out of place, so awkward much of the time – self-conscious and unsure of yourself and longing to find your place in this world.
Not unlike many adults I know, still searching for a place to fit in and feel loved and wanted.
Then Jeremy asked the middle schoolers if some of them spent time together outside of school, outside of church, just going to movies, hanging out at each other’s houses.
“Well, what if the next time you did that, you called one of those friends who’s not here today, and asked them to hang out with you? Could you do that?”