Can you imagine that in 14 years of pastoral ministry I have never spent any time as a youth pastor? In some ministry circles, some pastors cut their teeth as a youth pastor and then move up the “ministry ladder.” Since that was not my journey, I never would have thought that this father of five would voluntarily sign up as a youth leader for a middle school church camp. Not only did I sign up and go, but I even enjoyed it. The truth is God did something special in my heart and helped me see my teens in a whole new light.
1) Teens care more that you showed up than they care about you being hip.
A lot of parents struggle with the thought of working with teens because of their own insecurities. These insecurities may be something carried with you from your own high school days. You may feel like you didn’t fit in or were never “cool” enough.
What I have experienced is that teens care more about you simply being present. At camp, I was able to see moms, dads, empty-nesters, and young adults really pursue the teens. Most of it was just participating in what they were doing. I learned how to play nine-square and gaga-ball. We danced and sang, not because we were good at it, but because it was fun.
Ecclesiastes 1:14 NLT – “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.”
For years I have cared a lot about what people think about me. Going to camp reminded me that it simply doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because the teens were just glad I was present. My own kids didn’t even mind that I was there, and they were excited to show me what they were doing or to introduce me to their friends. Ecclesiastes 1:14 was the theme of the camp and I think it applies here. Our insecurities are like chasing the wind. They are meaningless, but what does matter is being present in our teens’ lives and pointing them to Jesus.
2) Teens act like they have life figured out, but they still want (and need) you to challenge their reality.
Is it just me or do teens today seem so much more mature than when we were growing up? Social media has for sure opened up a world much broader than the one I experienced as a teen. Just because they dress more maturely and have a wider view of the world doesn’t mean that they have everything figured out.
In raising my own teens, I have been a slow learner in not arguing with them. At the same time, I don’t want their eagerness to be more mature to hinder my ability to challenge their reality. Recently, my teen told me that she is saving her money so that she can buy a Range Rover for her first car. This teen currently babysits and now works at Chick-fil-a. The best way I have seen to challenge her is not to argue, but to start asking questions and giving long periods of time for the answers. Those long periods of time are sometimes weeks.
1 Corinthians 13:11 NLT – When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
What I noticed at camp was that those in my group who had the most bravado were the ones with the most receptive hearts. Teen bravado sometimes is a cover-up for the fact that they feel lost and just want quick answers and understanding. Listen. Ask questions. I have seen my own teens flip-flop on an issue because other trusted adults have asked them questions.
3) Teens respond to the Spirit when He moves them to act.
One of the most rewarding things is seeing a group of teens praising God and responding to the message of God’s word. I know all worship environments are different, but I want my kids in a church where it is popular to sing, worship, and respond to the leading of the Spirit.
Romans 8:11 NLT – The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.
As adults, we can be quick to forget how God is working in our teens’ lives. We forget that they must grow up in Christ as we have all done. We would do well to remember that if their walk with Christ doesn’t look like ours, it doesn’t mean God isn’t working in their lives.
This past spring, two of my teens were baptized. During that time, I was able to see them celebrate their baptism with friends and youth group leaders. Let us not be doubtful that the Spirit can and will work in our teens’ lives. Let us start praying for God’s power to be evident in their lives!