Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me. “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:6-7 (ESV)
The cry of Jeremiah in response to the Lord is a similar cry which resonates with middle school students. “I don’t know how to do this!” and “I can’t follow Jesus!” are two phrases I have heard during the past five years of shepherding middle school students. And it is a cry I fight against every day – it was what Paul fought against when he wrote to Timothy “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (4:12 ESV) It is really easy to judge a middle schooler by their cover. They laugh a lot. They make poop jokes…and find poop funny. They have a very short attention span. And Jesus died for them the same as for their elders…and Jesus says the same “go and make disciples” – a charge not based on age. Recognize who they are in Christ – and what they can do for His name right now A concrete way to invest in middle school students is constantly reminding them who they are – a child of God, created in His image, separated from Him because of sin, and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. The call to follow Jesus and make disciples starts now – in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. They are capable of bringing the Gospel to their sports teams, their lunch tables, their neighborhoods in ways no one – not a pastor, not a parent, not a high school sibling can. They are not too young to follow Jesus – they are being called on mission with Jesus right here, right now. Respond in constant grace – because they are concrete thinkers and they won’t get it a lot of the time. While they are charged to make disciples, it looks a lot different because there is some truth to them being young. The way an 11 year old thinks, speaks, and acts is a lot different than the way a 22 year old thinks, speaks, and acts (or should be). We must live in constant grace with them – when they don’t yet fully grasp following Jesus. When they aren’t developmentally capable of understanding the depth of who God is and what He has done. As we continually model for them core truths – their roots will begin to grow deeper and they will have a solid foundation to build a better understanding and rhythm of life upon. As we seek to invest and create concrete disciples – let us respond with grace towards their youth while not letting it become an excuse for them or for us. God desires and will use middle schoolers to bring Him glory and to bring the Gospel into their schools, teams, neighborhoods, and the world.