Cast down. Rejected. Abandoned. Overlooked.
There's never been a generation more. Lives with more screen time than family time. Given false security, hope and friendships found in likes, @s and screenshots. There's never been anyone like them, and if we're not careful, we'll lose them. Teenagers. Young Adults. Ones for whom Christ died. If everyone and everything is against them, will we be? Will we just look aside and wait for the awkward to pass? Maybe find someone more respectable, more easily understood to love. No. No. Let us shout from the rooftops and mountains, lunchrooms and hallways, games and recitals, "GIVE US THE TEENAGERS!" We will love them. We will show them. We will bridge the gap between broken and better, just as The Savior has done for all of us; to show and not only tell what He is really like and yes, there is something greater and a life that's worth living. But... how? Where do we start?
Let's talk about it.
There is no solid plan. No step-by-step instruction manual on how to really reach kids in the world today and nail it every time. If someone tells you there is, they are wrong. However, there are some solid principles that we can grab on to that will hold true. The "what's" might change, but the principles will likely stay the same. For instance, throwing a social event after a football game won't work in all settings and in every place, but somehow loving kids relationally always will. Hang on, I'm getting ahead of myself. There's something we've got to know and be okay with straight away.
IT WON'T BE EASY
If you are one of the few... one of the called... chosen even, one that feels this God-mandate to love and care for adolescents, then you know that it can be the most rewarding work in the world. But those rewards come piled on with a massive amount of disappointment. Check out this poem I read once on this very subject:
What Leading Teenagers Ought to Do.
It ought to be so unreachably big that you can only see it through the they eyes of Christ by faith. Ought to be harder than you can handle on your own, to make you more dependent on God.Ought to give you enough disappointments to make you humble and break your spiritual pride. Ought to be difficult enough to make you weep for others that you might become that much more compassionate. Ought to have enough demanding, insensitive, ungrateful people in it to teach you to love like Jesus loves. Ought to have enough impossible, insurmountable obstacles in it to teach you the goodness and power of God.
Ought to teach you how to love when you are tired, give when you are spent, and pray when you are weary. Ought to teach you the power and truth of His Word, the strength of His Voice and the might of His great, mighty commands. Ought to teach you to turn your mourning into dancing, your sadness into joy, and your sorrow into laughter. Ought to teach you to love the only One worth all of our love - the One who became poor so that you might become rich - unjust so that you might become just - Jesus.
I don't think anyone has ever started doing work with kids and have thought, "oh, this is going to be easy!" –at least not ones who really make a difference. Anyone can run an after-school program. Anyone can play games, entertain, and babysit. That's not what we are talking about here. We're talking about being in the trenches, living life, loving and running after un-churched kids with one purpose in mind: showing them who Jesus is. This requires dedication, hard work and prayer, a whole lot of prayer. So, if you've read this far and have decided that you're one of those people, one of the ones that wants to make a difference no matter the cost, then great! Let's go!
YOU'RE A CROSS-CULTURAL MISSIONARY
When I was in the 6th grade I had the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. with my school. It was my first time on a plane and out of the state without my parents. Not to worry, the school had asked several other parents and teachers to come along as chaperones. I remember so many things about that trip. Seeing the Lincoln memorial, the tomb of the unknown solder, the white house and even the Capital building. So many cool experiences. You know what I don't remember? Those chaperones. I have no idea who they were or what they did. Why? because, at the time, their only job was to corral us from place to place and keep us safe. They had a mentality of Adult vs Kids. My sole responsibility, they thought, is to keep you safe.
Please, please, PLEASE, don't have this mentality when working with teenagers. The first and most important piece of ministry to adolescents has to be the understanding that we are all missionaries working for the opportunity to tell them about the Savior.
Imagine for a moment that God called you to China to reach the people there. The first thing you would do would be to learn their language, learn what they do and how they live. You would dive into their culture so you could understand how best to communicate the Gospel to them. Working with teenagers is no different... Do research on what they do and who they are, GO where they go and maybe even do some of the things that they do. Learn to speak their language. I can try really hard, but I probably won't reach the people of China with the Gospel from my house in Michigan. If you're ever going to win the hearts of adolescents it's not going to be from the outside looking in. It's going to at least start on their turf. You've got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
EARN THE RIGHT TO BE HEARD.
Kids have too many people in their life telling them what to do. Teachers, coaches, parents, bosses and maybe even preachers. These are folks that seem to have it all together and are trying to tell them how to fix their problems. You'll gain some respect this way, but if you want to really make a difference in the lives of kids, you have to show up and live life with them. Find a way to become a regular presence in their lives. In my observation there are three different levels of this:
1) Being Seen.
Hang out at a basketball game, even though you don't know anyone. Sit in the student section of the stands (The hardest and most awkward thing you can do). Go to graduation and awards day and celebrate...everyone. High-five kids after an event to let them know that you saw them do well. No matter how you're there, just be there.
2) Going Into Their World.
Once you get to know some kids, go to the school if you can and eat lunch with them. Get to know their friends. Go to their football, basketball, volleyball, soccer and baseball games. Watch their plays and hear their concerts and recitals. Meet their family and get to know them. Text, FaceTime, @ and DM them. Let them know that you are there, you love them and you're real.
3) Bringing Them Into Your World.
Take them out to eat. Invite them over to your hose for dinner with your family or video games in the living room. Pick someone up on your way to the store to shop with you. Take the guys camping, girls, go have a ladies night. Do something. It's once you reach this third level that real and honest conversations become easier. You've now earned the right to be heard.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK THE QUESTION.
Have you ever known a couple who have been dating for way too long? They are always getting asked the question, "so when are you getting married?" Sometimes it boils down to the money, other times it legit might not be the right time, but many times it's because the guy just doesn't have the guts to ask the question. Is he afraid of commitment? Maybe. Could it be that he is afraid things will change and not be the same, possibly. Who knows?
When you're working with teenagers, there comes a moment, sometimes sooner, others later, where you feel you've earned the right to be heard, and now it's time to pop the question... "So, how do you feel about Jesus?" or "Have you ever thought about getting baptized?" or maybe, "What do you know about the Holy Spirit?" Whatever form the question is, if you've built a relationship with an un-churched kid, this is a pivotal moment.
Will they accept the Savior that you have been modeling or do they need more time? Will they say 'yes' to the Jesus that we know and love or maybe still need to learn more? No matter what the hesitation, if things change, it will be for the better –no matter what. If by some chance they are not open to the idea, please hear me when I say, don't write them off and move on to the next one. KEEP that relationship. KEEP going. KEEP praying. Remember, it's the Lord that draws people, not us. God help us if we aren't around when He is working...
DEAR LORD, GIVE US THE TEENAGERS
Now, I'll finish with this: Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, once prayed a prayer that honestly, inspired this whole post. (Well, that and a question on Instagram from the great David Withers and Rachel Davy.) I have this very prayer hanging up in my room. it reads:
Give us the teenagers that we may lead them to Thee. Our hearts ache for the millions of young people who remain untouched by the Gospel and for the tragically large proportion of those who have dropped by the wayside and find themselves without spiritual guidance. Help us to give them a chance, oh Gather, a chance to become aware of thy Son's beauty and healing power in the might of your Holy Spirit. Oh, Lord Jesus, give us the teenagers, each one at least long enough for a meaningful confrontation with Thee. We are at best unprofitable servants, but thy grace is sufficient. Oh, God, give us the teenagers. For we love them and know them to be awfully lonely. Dear Lord, give us the teenagers."
Until next time,