I think everyone knows the simple story of the “ugly ducking”. It is the story of a little lost egg that hatches into a family of ducks, only to realize that it does not look like any of them. The story follows its awkward search for identity, ending when it discovers it is not a duck at all but a beautiful swan.
Over the last couple years this story has resonated with me as a 6th to 8th grade pastor, when it comes to my ministry and the development of my students.
Little Lost Eggs: 6th Grade
6th graders come in, in the protective shell of childhood. They are anxious to see what is outside the shielding egg they are living in. They peck away here and there in order to peek out while still staying safe inside until it is time to hatch. Parents continue to work keep the shell of childhood, hovering and “sitting on” any attempt to break out into the big, bad world.
Finally too big to be contained any longer; students crack open the shell of childhood. The solid, concrete world they have lived in for so long falls away as they emerge into a new world of abstract discovery.
Our role as youth workers is to welcome them into the first real steps of adolescent development. They come into our ministry looking a bit messy and unruly, very much like a newly hatched ducklings. They are not sure where they belong or even if they belong. We have the opportunity to welcome these little lost hatchlings to begin the journey of discovering God’s design and identity for them.
Ugly Ducklings: 7th Grade
7th grade is the middle stage of the story in every way. It is physically obvious who the 7th graders are in our ministry. As one volunteers said, “it is the ‘hit with the ugly stick’ year of ministry. It is more than just the struggle of physical transition. It is also a spiritually, emotionally and socially transition.
This is the time of the social search, walking through their world seeking identity. This is the time of mental search as they reflect in the pools of thought all around them. It is the time when they try to decide who they think they are.
We have the chance as spiritual leaders to affirm them in their struggle. We can stand beside them, stirring up the reflective pool of thought they are staring into. We can get down in the muck of the ugly struggles to help them rise up out of it ready to claim a personal identity in Christ.
The Beautiful Swan: 8th Grade
The ugly feathers and fur of development begin to fall away in the 8th grade year. It is when the “ugly” begins to be left behind in an unwanted pile. Students finally catch glimpses of their true selves and who God really has created them to be
Much like the little lost ugly duckling, our students look around to see beautiful adult swans. They watch them swimming in the deep end of life, graceful and beautiful. Something deep inside calls to them, as they have a moment of awakening realizing that is who they can be as well.
This is our last big moment in middle school ministry. We have prepared them for this moment, now is the time to push them out of the nest, point to the swans of our church and community. Letting them see examples of what it looks like to live as beautiful Christ-Following creations.