Middle school students are the oddest of creatures, an alien of sorts! At times they seem strangely intuitive, creative, honest, confident, engaging, insightful, articulate, fun-loving, care-free, and humorous. While at others, they are unorganized, awkward, careless, aloof, goofy, loud, smelly, confusing, insecure, obnoxious, disrespectful, and even self-absorbed. All of these characteristics and their subsequent ramifications became very clear to me after a weekend with my middle school students at winter camp. You see, our students were far more concerned with tube runs, snack shacks, snowball fights, and flirting with members of the opposite sex than they were with passionately serving and following in the footsteps of Jesus.

While understanding that this phase of adolescence is naturally a very awkward part of human development, middle school students are beginning the slow process of transitioning from being concrete thinkers to abstract thinkers. At times, they struggle to see how situations, concepts, and experiences relate and connect to one another. Their understanding of the world is
compartmentalized. A common by-product of concrete thinking is the inability to be fully aware of the world around them. Students seem very selfish or self-absorbed because they physically lack the ability to make connections between life experiences. At times, they need help orienting the world around them.

Therefore, as parents, you can challenge and inspire your children to grow in their ability to serve and to understand that being a follower of Christ means that we actively seek out ways to serve and care for other people. This is a twofold process.

The first step is to captivate a humble heart of service. One way of doing this is to give students the opportunity to follow the example of Christ. On the night of His betrayal, in an act of utter humility, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. The Creator of our universe postured Himself on His knees and scrubbed the crusted mud and gunk off the disciples. You can apply this and cultivate this idea of servanthood as a family by reading John 13:1–17 and taking turns washing each other’s feet. While doing this, try to say a few encouraging statements to the person you are washing and pray for one another when you are finished.

The second step in this process is creating an intentional spirit of service. This is achieved by challenging students to be on the lookout for ways to serve others. As a family, read Philippians 2:1–11 together, discuss it, and commit to being proactive about serving other people. A great way to do this is to spend three to four days focusing on identifying and meeting the needs of people who are already in your lives. The first day, have each member of the family find a way to serve a fellow family member. This process can then be applied to neighbors, classmates, teachers, and anyone perceived to be in need. This skill of looking for ways to serve those around us begins by simply putting the principle into practice.

These simple exercises will help middle school students expand their view of the world and set a standard that life is not just about themselves, but about faithfully following the example of Christ and serving those around them.