Is My Middle School Camper A Reflection of How Jesus Was?

I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve come to church camp and filled the role of middle school camp pastor. I know it’s been a good, long while since I was using the TV show “Let’s Make A Deal!” as an example and the students looked completely clueless as to what I was talking about.

The thing is…middle schoolers haven’t changed…really. They haven’t evolved into some new form of early adolescents that still needs to be defined and named. They’re still the same as the kids I grew up with back at Williamstown (WV) Junior High and South Zanesville (OH) Junior High. Oh, there’s subtle differences, like with technology and communication alternatives, but at their core, the kids are still the same kids.

Some of them display the need to be recognized and draw attention to themselves, and others like to hide in their shells. Many of them are as hyper as squirrels on steroids. Some of them have reached maturity long before their peers and others may still be reaching for it when they’re in their twenties. There are the same insecurities, fears, doubts, and frustrations as there has always been.

This week we’re talking about Jesus to them, his parables, stories about Him, miraculous things He did. The excitement is in having kids discover who Jesus is, but the danger is in creating this picture of Jesus that they can’t relate to, or end up seeing as just another one of The Avengers, a Superman with many episodes. I need to keep reminding myself that Jesus, long ago as it was, passed through adolescence Himself. He had once been twelve and then thirteen. It’s probably hard for some people to admit it, but Jesus went through puberty just like my campers are going through.

So how are my middle school camper a reflection of Jesus?

We’re stressing the idea this week of respecting one another and what that looks like. Respect is one characteristic that Jesus conveyed on those He encountered. Those who His culture cast to the side as void of worth, Jesus drew close to Him and treated them as valued and loved. Today many “arriving teenagers” have taken their cues from the adult world around them that there is a tiered-system that people are fitted into that conveys their importance or minimizes their essentialness. The kid at school who nobody picks as their partner for an activity has come to understand that he is and unnecessary part of his educational community.

The thing is, Jesus would have sat down with that kid and eaten lunch with him…maybe offered him some of His grapes or figs. On several occasions He told His followers that those who want to be first in God’s kingdom need to go to the back of the line and experience servanthood. That’s a hard thing for middle school kids to put into practice. They understand it, but being a reflection of Jesus in the midst of their peer group is faced with a certain level of anxiety and dread.

And yet, that’s how Jesus was, an adolescent who treated everyone with respect and worth. That’s what I’m praying for my camp kids this week. It has merit, and yet the challenges incorporated into it between clearer as our camp week goes along. The kids who are more of a handful become more difficult to love. the kids who demand attention become the ones that are prone to be ignored. The immature cause the rolling of eyes and the testing of patience in the more mature.

Having a young adolescent be a reflection of Jesus is a hard, hard, really hard thing to happen…but, Wow!, it’s a goal worthy to be strived for!

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