Books to Teach in Jr. High Youth Ministry: Mark
Paul said it well, “all Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching.” We can teach any book to group of people and expect spiritual benefit.
Simultaneously, I have found in experience that certain books of the Bible are more effective for teaching in different contexts. If I were doing a series on sex and marriage, Song of Songs probably would be more helpful than Ezra. If I were leading a series on Christian masculinity, Nehemiah would come to mind before Nahum.
Ministry to middle school students constitutes one of the most challenging contexts one may ever encounter. Given the particular developmental nuances of early adolescents, teaching these students the Bible can be difficult. In my decade of youth ministry, I have taught Matthew, John and Mark to middle schoolers. While every study of these three gospels has value, my experience has led me to think that Mark is a bit more effective for middle school kids. Here’s why:
1. Mark wastes no words.
Compared to the other gospels, Mark’s pericopes, complete units that include a story or thought, are succinct. He tells the story with the essential details and nothing more. Given the short attention span of middle school students, they can grasp and digest these stories more easily.
2. Mark has a great deal of concrete imagery and is less abstract.
One year I taught John to both my middle school and senior high students. The senior high kids tracked very nicely, while the middle school kids appeared lost at times. John contains a great deal of abstract imagery, such as the light versus darkness dialectic and the repeated theme of the hour. Most middle school students struggle with abstract thought due to their cognitive development. In teaching students in this phase, one needs to use and demonstrate concrete imagery. Mark rarely uses abstract language. His language, though, leans more on the concrete side. This language is more accessible for middle school kids and enables them to comprehend what Mark is trying to communicate better.
3. Mark is action-based.
While Mark’s gospel relates the life of Jesus, he does not attempt to make the story as biographical as Luke or Matthew. He includes no information about Jesus’ origins or family. Mark focuses more on Jesus’ mission and ministry. As a result, this book includes few long speeches but contains many short action stories, illuminating what Jesus did. Rather than saying that Jesus has omnipotence over the spiritual realm, Mark shows Jesus ordering demons to and fro and slapping them around. (Sort of.) For middle school kids, who think more concretely, they will better comprehend Jesus and His mission through observing His actions than studying His words. (This obviously is not to say that they cannot understand Jesus’ sermons. They can. I’ve just found that they interpret actions more clearly than words.)
4. Mark has a simple, focused purpose.
Mark’s Gospel is like a laser beam. There is no mistaking his purpose. He wants to convey without any superfluous details why Jesus came and what He did. In my experience, middle school kids are emerging from a period where they have accumulated many Bible stories and learned Christian concepts. I find many of them asking the question, “What’s this all about?” They want to know how all of the things they’ve learned fit together in one unifying idea. Mark’s Gospel communicates the mission and ministry of Jesus with clarity and precision. For this reason, many great introductions to Christianity, such as Alpha and Christianity Explored, use Mark as their primary text. It meets early adolescent students exactly where they are with their questions.