Kim Pagel (Our Associate pastor here at NCBC) introduced me to this book after I came to staff meeting one day and asked, “do you know of any resources that deals with transition?” I have concluded the life of a middle schooler is a life of transition and that the more I understand transition the more I will be a better middle school youth pastor.
What I read from this book has some huge application for middle school youth, their parents, and anyone (including myself) who work/minister to middle school students.
I’ve decided to go in a different way then I normally do in these book reports. I will present some key points from the book and then some key applications (that I see) to middle school ministry that come from those key points.
First Bridges introduces three key phases of any transitions. First there are endings. Any changes come with endings. The only way change happens is endings happen. Second phase is what he calls the neutral zone. This is where nothing is right. Things just aren’t happening the way the change wants it to happen and yet it is also not happening the way it used to. All change creates neutral zones and neutral zones are chaotic. Then there is beginnings and these are much more than just “starts.” They are the end results of a lot of work through the chaotic time of the neutral zone. All three of these phases don’t happen in a systematic way, one could be going through endings and dealing with the chaotic experiences of the neutral zone or one could be knee-deep in the neutral zone and have some beginnings happen. It isn’t neat and clean - phases by phase experience it is as Kurt Johnston titled one of his book – Controled Chaos (you can read my little book report here on that book).
So here is what I see as possible applications to these phases for middle school ministry. One - we have to realize that we are working with a group of kids and their parents who are going through two of these phases. I would say that we are more dealing with kids going through the end phases of childhood and entering into the neutral zone (what we call “pre-adolescents”) more than being a part of any real new beginnings (which we call “adolescents”). This has huge application in how we handle and even talk with the kids. I remember once being introduced to a new kid by one of my own kids and say, “you know Johnny.. I’ll be praying for you.” The results were devastating for Johnny and I had a hard time rebuilding a relationship with him. Today you will find me saying things like, “you came with Sarah.. you are so lucky” or “anyone who knows David has to be WAY cool!” This is a perfect example of talking with kids who are in the neutral zone.
One other key thought that Bridges brings up is the characteristics that stand out when transition is handled wrong. He calls it the “GRASS” effect:
1) GUILT – people will go through guilt after a transition unless they have a chance to process what they have been through while they are going through it. I don’t think anyone who has worked with middle schoolers long can say that middle schoolers don’t go through some forms of guilt. We must walk with them as they go through this.
2) RESENTMENT – people will resent others for putting them through transition even if the “others” really didn’t do much to cause the transition. So often I’ve talk with a kid who “hates” Johnny because of some change in their relationship that just happened. But as I talked with the kid I’m able to help them understand and process that Johnny didn’t mean to hurt them but that it was part of the changes that relationships go through.
3) ANEXITY – anyone who has had to do any kind of major change gets anxious about it. Middle schoolers are right in the middle of (what I believe) one of the biggest changes they will ever experience in life. Spending time with a kid who just had their first “breakup” or is about to go to their first dance can be very helpful as they process the feelings they have never felt before, which causes them a lot of anxiety.
4) SELF-ABORPTION – When people go through changes they get very self focused. It is almost like a protection for them to make it through the chaotic experience of change. Middle schoolers are egocentric. Then they are put into environments where a lot of changes are happening around them and inside them and you have a very self-absorbed person. Sharing with them verses like Jer. 29:11 and pointing out that God has a plan for them and that plan includes protection and hope can help them get outside of themselves.
5) STRESS – The amount of stress so many people are under is beyond anything that has been experienced on this earth. Put a middle schooler into this media saturated (read Youth Culture 101) and over stimulated environment and you have one stressed out kid. There are times where I like to put the kids into a simple environment where they can feel safe and let their “hair down” and just be middle school kids. I think those environments are absolutely needed for any health middle school ministry.
I’m going to stop there. There is much more in the book (like the 7 stages of changes, 4 P’s to help with transitions, and the importance of building trust during transitions) but I really don’t like long blog post and this one is way too long for me. I’ve got all of these in note form and I’m sure I will call on them often as I continue my simple pursuit to be the best Mark Eades a middle school pastor, father, and husband on this earth.