You may be the kind of person who can do everything yourself, but it is
more likely that if you are single-handedly ministering to the junior
highers in your church, regardless of the size of the group, you could
benefit from some help. Junior high ministry is always best when it is a
team ministry. If you are a youth director or Christian education
director responsible for a number of age groups, no doubt you are also
in need of other adults who can serve as junior high sponsors or
How many? Usually the size of the group will dictate the exact
number that is required. A good ratio is approximately one adult or
every eight junior highers, although every group should have at least
two adult leaders--one male and one female. The 1:8 ratio, although
arbitrary, is based on the idea that it is difficult to establish relation-
ships with many more than eight. It can be done, of course, but it's
much more difficult, especially with the many other responsibilities of
adult life. If you hope to be able to give some quality time to each
person, it is wise not to bite off more than you can chew.
Another important consideration is the male-female balance of
the group. If you are a male but your group is made up of quite a few
girls, you should have a female coworker who can relate to those girls as
only another female can. Junior high girls are just beginning to deal
with their emerging womanhood, and they need adult women whom
they can trust and confide in. The same is true for boys. It's not being
sexist to recognize that boys should have men they can relate to and
look up to and girls should have women.
Early adolescence is an
important time of gender identification, and it helps to have good adult
role models available.
A related problem for many young male junior high workers is
how to handle junior high girls who become infatuated with them, who
"have a crush" on them. This is not uncommon, and it also happens,
although less frequently, with female junior high workers and junior
high boys. I don't have an easy solution for this, but I have found that it
is very helpful (if you are male) to have a woman coworker who can
minister to the girls in the group, and vice versa.
The problem, of course, is not usually the failure to know when
more help is needed. The problem is knowing whom to enlist. For
reasons already stated, there is rarely a waiting list of people who want
to work with junior high kids. Usually those who do emerge are the
chronic volunteers-people who volunteer for everything. They're
usually fine folks, but they are more than likely volunteering for the
wrong reasons. To wait around for volunteers is usually not the best
way to get the best people. The best way is to take the initiative yourself
and seek out people who you have reason to believe would make
outstanding junior high workers. You have to recruit them.
Again, keep in mind that we're not talking about people who
have lots of youth ministry experience, or who are young and talented,
We are looking for people who possess to some degree the qualifi-
cations previously described in this chapter. Again, no one has to be
perfect. As a rule of thumb, I usually seek people who have the time
and the willingness to give junior high ministry a try and who seem like
the kind of people who haven't repressed their owm adolescence so
much that they find it impossible to relate to junior highers. From that point, other necessary or helpful skills may be developed.
When looking for junior high workers, I have found that it is
generally best to rule out high school students. They usually lack the
maturity to take on the responsibility for junior high ministry. That
doesn't mean that high school students can't be involved in the junior
high ministry in some very effective ways. I have used high school
students for leading music, doing dramas, helping out with games and
skits, even teaching. It's good for junior highers to see older teenagers
serving Christ, using their gifts and talents in ministry, and being
leaders and role models for them. But high school students are simply
too close in age to the junior high students to be reliable junior high
When I worked as a junior high camp director, I always had the
most difficulty with church groups that used high school-aged cabin
counselors. We frequently had to discipline male counselors who had
become overzealous about "counseling some of the female campers
long after the evening meetings were over. High school students may be
full capable of assisting in many areas of the junior high program, but
in most cases it is better to seek more mature leadership.
College students often make very good junior high workers, but
there are problems common to this age
group as well. One is that they are rather
transient-here this semester, gone the next, or away for the summer. It is best to find people who can give the junior high group a degree of stability over two or three years if
One middle school ministry that I
am familiar with requires a three-year
commitment from its adult leaders. A male leader, for example, at the beginning of this term is given a group of six to eight sixth grade boys, and he works with those boys for three full years (through sixth, seventh, and
eighth grade) until they move on to the high school department of the church. Of course, in practice, this model is no more free from breakdown than any other, but the reasoning is sound. For three years, each kid in the group has someone who knows him well and notices whenever he is having difficulty or is making progress. The end result of Such a plan should be a lower dropout rate as well as a more effective ministry.
Parents often are willing to work with the junior high group and,
depending on who the parents are, that can be either good or bad.
Some parents volunteer to work with the junior high group simply
because they have a vested interest in what's going on. They may want
to keep an eye on their kids, or they may want to keep an eye on you.
Needless to say, this is not the best motivation for doing junior high
Parents can and should be involved in the junior high program
in some way, but there are potential problems with parents doubling as
junior high workers. They may be overly protective of their own
children or perhaps too close to them to deal with them in an objective
manner. It's difficult to be neutral with your own kids. You can give
objective, empathetic advice to other people's kids, but it's difficult to
do that with your oWn.
A bigger problem is that kids are often intimidated by the
presence of their parents in the youth group, which prevents them from
opening up as they might under normal conditions. Most junior
highers are involved, either quietly or overtly, in a struggle to free
themselves from parental domination, and they usually need adults
other than their parents to relate to during this time. For this reason, it's
a good idea to ask students how they feel about having their parents
involved in the youth group. You may be surprised to find that some of
your junior highers have no problem with it at all. In fact, some
students actually want their parents to be involved.
Despite the potential problems, I would not rule out parents of
junior highers as leaders for the junior high group, especially if they
sincerely want to be involved and appear to be qualified to do a good
job. It's strictly a judgment call. Il have more to say about the role of
When I am looking for junior high workers, I generally like to
recruit young adults, either single or married, in their 20s and 30s.
Young couples with no children or with young children often make
wonderful husbarñd/wife teams. I also like to go after older adults-
whose children have grown, or those of retirement age. So long as they
enjoy the kids and are able to understand and communicate with them,
they have all that it takes. Many times kids will love and respect older
folks more than those closer to their own age.
One of the most creative junior high workers I have ever met is
in his 60s. He teaches a Sunday school class of seventh-grade boys in a
Small town in Oregon. Once a month he has his class wear old clothes
to church and instead of attending services that week, they all climb
nto the back of his camper and go fishing. He provides the boy's with
ait, tackle, and even shows them how to tie flies. And according to tnis
Junior high worker, he gets more teaching done along the bankS Or a stream once a month than he is able to accomplish during the remaining three weeks of the month spent in the classroom. I wouldnt
doubt it at all.