Middle Years Ministry – Dan Istvanik

Lee Lethers Podcast

The middle years of students lives are crucial. Therefore, we must be aware of what students are going through during this time and have a plan of how to disciple them. Brian is joined in the conversation today by Dan Istvanik. Dan is a middle years pastor in Lancaster, PA and a specialist in this particular age group.

The most formative years of students’ lives are 5th -7th grade. A lot is going on and they are making decisions that will impact the rest of their lives, especially spiritually.

The term, “Middle Years:”

It comes from the Middle Education certification for teaching grades 5-9. The age range of 9-14 is the last big deal in developmental education. It is also hugely important in student ministry because faith formation now globally solidifies around the age of 14. 85% of students globally accept lifetime faith before the age of 14.

What’s going on with a kid for them in this age group? What’s different? What is developing?

4Bs – Body, Brain, Bonds, Belief:

Their Body is turning into an adult, but their brain still needs to catch up.

Much like the Brain development as a toddler, middle year students are both losing and newly forming neuro pathways. This means that as we minister to this age group, we are literally rewriting brain pathways.

Bonds: Their relationships are changing from parent driven to peer driven. Students are more independent and their relationships are now based on personality and common interests.

Belief: Concrete abstract thinking. Their faith is no longer their mom and dad’s faith. They are starting to ask big and hard questions. Start talking about the hard questions with your students at 5th grade. 9th grade is too late. Let them bring their honest doubt and ask their honest questions.

Young people are exposed to more than ever before, also in regards to responsibility. What effects of this have you seen?

What we used to deal with in Juniors and Seniors, we now deal with in 7th and 8th grade. They are informationally saturated with information constantly available in their pocket. They are exposed to sexuality and lifestyle choices earlier. However, many have parents who are either under or overprotective, leading to the need for addressing extremes within the same age group.

Middle year students have tremendous influence in the culture through their spending power and entrepreneurial spirit. They are so important that marketing companies have noticed and target them. Unfortunately, the church is just now starting to try and keep up.

Generation Z wants to change the world. Middle year students are already thinking about how they can change the world for God.

Practical things to do differently in the Middle Years ministry rather than in ministries for younger and older students:

Encourage students to go through the same process as adults. On Sundays they are in the worship service with their parents and then are plugged into service right alongside the adults.

Give them their own ministry night, not just a Sunday school hour. 5th-6th grade students love youth ministry nights and can handle them. There is no need to dress up kid stuff or dumb down teen stuff. They can dive in deep, so minister to them specifically.

Should middle school and high school ministries be separate?

While it is difficult, there are benefits to separating them. Create a space for them, even if it is just through a volunteer or coordinator. Work together and support each other.

Your Middle Year Ministry night:

First, we allow for 15 minutes to just hangout before we start. Small group leaders can interact and informally connect with their students. We may provide something to do, but it is always interactive and social. Next, do a big group game or activity to pull everyone together for announcements after. Then do a 25-minute lesson followed by 25-30 minutes of small group time. Then we just hang out until they are picked up by their parents.

Due to the lack of talent currently available, we do not have a formal worship song time. They do however get that time through Sunday morning services and our multi-campus student worship meetings.

Small group time: two adult leaders to a group of 10-12 students broken up by gender and grade. Try to keep them small and split them up if the group is still too big. While having two leaders to a group is in part due to policy, it helps build consistency and stability in relationships between students and their leaders when one leader may be unavailable.

How do you minister to the parents and keep them connected?

Parents are still super involved in the middle years because they are their students’ ride. To keep the kids coming the parents need to be interested in your ministry too. Keep parents informed, interested, involved and entwined. Involve them by letting them become small group leaders or serve in other ways. Intertwine them by involving them at home with emails and phone calls letting them know what is going on in the lessons or give them discussion questions to address with their students during the week. Create ministry that is interesting to both the students and parents, like mother-son ice skating or father-daughter banquets. Nights like these give parents a chance to make intentional connections with their students.

Train small group leaders to not replace parents, but to partner up with and support them. Don’t just talk to the child but to parents as well and be positive about parents when with your students.

Closing thought:

Make sure that your church knows the value of middle year students. Don’t let your ministry to them be pushed to a secondary role. In grace and love stand up for the need and importance of them in the survival of the church.

Contact Dan:

Middleyearsminstry.com – Access all of Dan’s resources for ministry and even set up an appointment for ministry coaching. See guest writers, other middle year ministry examples, and links for anything else Dan has written.