Here’s a valuable tip for those of you thinking about volunteering with your church’s middle-school youth program: have very low expectations. Taking a few mental steps down the staircase of Acceptable Standards for Organizational Behavior proved to be very helpful for an executive manager such as myself in more effectively leading a gangly group of 13-year olds at my church.
I found out very early on that the weekly youth meetings of our Middle School “ministry” (please note that I use that term very loosely here) are nothing at all like the corporate management meetings I am used to presiding over. When running a meeting at work, for instance, one can expect those in attendance will listen to you. Also, you can be pretty sure that most of the time the group will show some measure of respect, decency, and collaboration.
In the end you can hope for at least a small attempt at productivity, even in the most dysfunctional of teams. However, with middle school kids, you are pretty much outnumbered, ignored, and out of control 99 percent of the time. Plus, they can be really gross. Well, the boys, anyways.
As this topic of conversation comes up from time to time with friends and colleagues, many respond with a snort of laughter. This is then typically followed with a question that asks, in one form or another, “What on earth could have possibly possessed you to dedicate your precious time and astute executive mental acuity on middle school kids? Blech.”
Good question. You may very well share the opinion of my enthusiastic friend from Starbucks, Reece, who, upon hearing of my philanthropic endeavor with those surly church tweens said to me with a palpable disgust, “No one could ever pay me enough to work with middle school kids!” She put a defining emphasis on the words “ever,” “pay,” and “enough.” Sparks of spittle erupted from her mouth like fireworks as she spoke, especially on the word “pay.” She really meant it.
Later that week, while enjoying the fellowship and sophisticated conversation of civil-minded adults at a church potluck function, I found myself cornered by the father of five boys. He had heard about my unfortunate falling-in with the middle school program. “Well, now Brad,” he said with a serpent’s grin, in between bites of celery in ranch dip, “Aren’t you lucky to get stuck leading the middle school program!”
This is a form of encouragement, right?
“My heart goes out to you. Boys at that age can be…” He was searching for a word - one to replace the word that he intended to say, a word he might have regretted using in mixed company at a church function. Instead, he delivered the following statement to me: “Eighth-grade boys are the lowest form of life on earth.”