Teenagers are a remarkable group of people to work with and for. They are curious, intelligent, not afraid to ask the tough questions, unsure about the future, socially dynamic (even in silence), longing for acceptance or a place in this world, and they live wholeheartedly in the moment. However, in spite of their fullness of life, bubble of emotions, and limitless enthusiasm to solve all the problems of the world, they can be extremely self-centered and fragile. That is why it is so important to teach teens in a way that will impact their lives for true transformation that will sustain them during the battle of the minds in college, culture, and the media.
I have created a simple acrostic to keep in mind when teaching our teens how to live holistically for Christ. When working with teenagers, teachers need to be:
T – Truthful (Matthew 13:17);
E – Encouraging (Romans 1:12);
E – Engaging not just Entertaining (Titus 2:12-13); and,
N – Non-judging (Romans 2:16).
The youth of today are starved for truth – the lived out truth of God’s Word, people who are honest with their pasts, and a genuine relationship with Christ that is modeled. It is difficult to teach anything that has not yet impacted one’s life first. Therefore, if we continue to imitate victory in Christ, our teens will continue to follow our example and “be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching” (Ephesians 4:14) influenced by lies so clever that they sound like the truth; dabbling in religions, relationships, and revelry; wasting time searching for self instead of Christ.
Often, it is difficult to find positive words fitting for a teen. They make us angry, mindful of our own sinful pasts and present, disgusted/embarrassed at our own faults, and fearful that they will replicate mistakes we have already made. So, finding words that encourage instead of destroy can be grueling. Yet, as we teach them we must rely upon Christ’s strength and wisdom to guide our hearts, minds, and tongues. The teacher must be trained to speak life, seek answers from the Word, and have the patience to allow the Holy Spirit to work in the life of the teen without criticism and attacks.
Therefore, if we truly want to see teens armed with confidence understanding the beauty of God’s standards, then we have to get them involved in the process. Far too often, we overly entertain them with flashy lights, secular music with Christian lyrics, games that do not enhance the lesson we try to communicate, and mindless activity that insult their intellect instead of connecting the dots in a way that they can apply what is taught to their everyday lives. Engagement is not trying to find the wow factor. Engagement is finding the heart factor. Teens will listen and apply what we are teaching if they know we genuinely care about what they think, feel, and say. Simply talking to them instead of lecturing to them has impact. Asking for their input on plans/projects/potential subjects makes a difference. Teaching what they need instead what we think they need is paramount.
No matter how much we teach/preach/yell/invite people to come into the church “just as they are”, I am still amazed at how we sneer, gossip, and stare down those who are already in the church but make a mistake where their sin is visible to all. If our youth are still coming into the doors of the church, we need to thank God that they are running to us instead of running to the streets/friends. This does not mean we condone/accept/tolerate willful disobedience to godly living, however, we are to disciple the youth by calling sin sin and teaching them how to get back into proper fellowship with God. Adult Christians have to stop chasing people away from the church. The church is the safe haven where the love of Christ is shared for the healing of mind, body, and soul (James 5:16).
Teenagers are drowning out our words/teaching/advice with loud rebellious doctrine. And, adults have no one to blame but themselves. We need to stop throwing our hands up in defeat and get our hands dirty and do some work in the lives of these young people. Believe it or not, teenagers want us to show them how to live righteously. They want to see how we handle our sin using God’s Word as the guide. They need to see the Holy Spirit renewing our minds to the point where our speech is firm, honest, and loving. They need to know that they are stakeholders in the kingdom and do not have to live life like a science fair experiment. And, they need to know that if they get the formula wrong and an explosion occurs, the HAZMAT team of the church is not far behind pointing them right back to Christ.