Talking to Tweens: Lessons from my Middle School Mission Field

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By Anna Schaeffer

In seminary, my brain was soaked in Christology, soteriology, missiology, ecclesiology, eschatology…so many -ologies. These words were a part of my conversations—not just in the classroom, but also in discussions with my friends. I studied the things contained in these words. I wrote research papers and manuscripts and attended lectures and asked questions.

Then God called me to a different kind of classroom.

The conversations around me went from discussions of premillennialism vs. postmillennialism to the latest TikTok dances and a game called “Among Us.” 

My life went from studying Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming Messiah to hearing the question: “Miss Schaeffer, I know Mary was a virgin, but…what’s a virgin?” 

I was given a mission field—a sixth grade classroom—and an assignment: Show them Jesus.

I was humbled to have this chance to step into the lives of these students and point them toward the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But I was also frozen.

There’s so much I still don’t understand about the Bible! What if they ask questions I don’t have an answer to? What if I can’t get them excited about the Old Testament? How do I teach big T Truth to people who are still losing baby teeth? 

It was a lot to process (and I’ve since learned this gig also involves a lot of baby teeth falling out during my lessons, my goodness). 

I knew I needed to show my kids that they are loved beyond measure and created on purpose, with a purpose: to know the God who loves them and share His Good News with others. 

That was my starting point. 

I don’t know if I have naïveté or spunk to thank for this, but I chose a curriculum that takes students book-by-book through the entire Bible. I’m also a firm believer that kids can digest more theology than we give them credit for. I don’t believe in watering anything down, but I do believe in walking alongside students as they discover the beauty and power of Scripture for themselves. This is 100% my jam. I used that excitement as a springboard to dive headfirst into sharing with my students the most daring rescue mission and the greatest love story the world will ever know. 

Don’t hide your passion for the gospel—every single, sacred word of it.

Here are some things I’m learning along the way: 

1. Invite students on the adventure. By this I mean, don’t hide your passion for the gospel—every single, sacred word of it. Go just as all-in with enthusiasm for the book of Nahum as you do for the Easter story. Will they think you’re a little wacky? Sure. But will your willingness to be animated and energetic help them trust that you so deeply believe in what you’re sharing that you’re willing to be a little out there? And will your excitement encourage their own excitement? Yes and amen. 

I’m not saying we’ve got to perform a skit for every sign Ezekiel acted out (I do draw some lines), but when our students see how sold-out we are for this message, they’ll want in on it too. I’ve found that even my too-cool and too-old-for-this kids can’t resist asking questions or bringing their own thoughts about the biblical narrative to the table when I’m willing to set aside my insecurity and display my love for the gospel.

2. Encourage their imaginations. One of my favorite things to do is help my kids imagine they’re in the Bible story we’re studying. For example, I tell them to think about what it would be like if they were one of the disciples hanging out with Jesus during the final days before His crucifixion and resurrection. I tell them to write from a first-person point of view and focus on what they learned, saw, felt, and wondered about.

This not only gives students a more creative way to show what they know, but it engages their hearts as they ask, “What if God told me to do that?” Or “What if I was there when Jesus performed that miracle?” Or “Would I be willing to follow Jesus at any cost?” 

I don’t want my Bible lessons to be too focused on feelings, but I do want them to see that the Bible really is about real history—and that a real Rescuer really did come to be with us.

When kids are able to step into the sandals of people who walked and talked with the Messiah, it captures their attention. And it’s my prayer that God will work through their unique imaginations to capture their hearts.

3. Champion slow growth. My students come from all different backgrounds and family situations. Some are Sunday school kids, while others have never had a church home. Some can name all of the books of the Bible in order, while others are still learning the difference between the Old and New Testament. 

As a teacher, I believe a big part of my job is to let them know that it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to get confused and it’s okay to not have the answers to questions. I remind them all the time that it’s good to realize you’re lost because then you know you need Someone to show you the way. 

This requires patience as I repeat information or re-share something from Scripture that I may think they should’ve grasped by now. But at the same time, it reminds me of the patience of my heavenly Father who never fails to remind me of His truth.

After all, at the end of the day, it’s not about how much we know, it’s about Who we know. If my students leave my class and can’t remember if Isaiah was a major or minor prophet, but they have a better understanding of the Messiah he foretold, I couldn’t ask for anything greater.

4. Be a disciple-maker, not a perfect role model. Another way of saying this would be: Get out of the way. My goal as their teacher isn’t to try to impress my kids. It’s not to try to make them think I’m super holy or that total sanctification has already kicked in for me. 

Instead, it’s my job to show them how much I am in need of the Savior and to model what it looks like to seek Christ. To admit when I don’t know any answer to a question. To seek forgiveness when I inevitably mess up. To share stories about what God has done in my life and how Jesus continues to grow me.

I’ll admit, I often wrestle with wanting to look like I have all the answers. After all, I’m a Bible teacher…and a grown up. But God continues to show me the value of vulnerability. 

I want my students to see me following Jesus, spending time with him and learning from His Word. I never want them to think I have it all together (which would be hard to pull off anyway), but I want them to see the grace of Jesus in my life. He’s the perfect role model. Our job is to point to Him.

He’s the God who takes a scrappy rookie teacher and reaches out to the souls that sit in the desks every day.

Last week, I picked a couple of students and gave them permission to imitate me. There were a lot of references to coffee, some really animated recitations of the week’s memory verse, and a joke about students sleeping in class. 

I then asked them: If you wanted to imitate me even better, what would you do? Answers ranged from “Find you on social media” to “talk to your family” to “go where you go to hang out.” And the main one: “Talk to you and spend time with you.” 

My point in that activity was to lead into a discussion about how we are to be imitators of Christ, and the only way to be like Him is to get to know Him. To spend time with Him. To read His Word. To listen to godly counsel. 

I want my classroom to be a space that welcomes questions and doubts and the angst that comes with being a tween. I want to do whatever it takes to point these impressionable young hearts to the One who loved them first. 

Over this past school year, I’ve been amazed at how God has worked in the lives of my students and me for His glory. Not because of anything I’ve done, but purely because of who He is: He’s the God who takes a scrappy rookie teacher and reaches out to the souls that sit in the desks every day. My prayer is that I step out of the way so that our Savior brings more children into His family.

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Anna Schaeffer

Anna Schaeffer is a 6th grade Bible and ELA teacher and an author of teen novels. She is an alumna of SEBTS, where she earned a Masters in Ministry to Women before God called her to teach in her home city in Georgia. She loves writing about God's faithfulness in everyday life and is passionate about helping tweens and teens discover their purpose in God's story.

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