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Are You Up For The Challenge?

Youth Specialties
September 16th, 2019

In ancient times, unknown areas on maps where often noted with drawings of dragons and messages of certain destruction. I suppose there are two types of people in the world. The first are people who see those blank spaces and prefer to live in the safety of the known world. The mapped, organized, known reality comforts them. The second type of people, see the dragons and think, I would like to see that dragon, I wonder where I could find them. 

I have always been that second type of person. Unknown spaces, blank areas of maps, places whispered about, have always called to me. The reality for most people is that they start out as adventuresome young children, dragon slayers only to be lulled into the false sense of security the known areas of the map hold as they grow older. The suburbs are filled with former dragon slayers who grew up to be PTA members, griping about home tax evaluations, and staring mindlessly at their iPhone while wondering why their life has no passion. 

One of the most intriguing things to me about teenagers is that they are locked into a time of transition. They are locked between their dragon slayer childhood and the slow burn of adult responsibility. Perhaps one of the reasons teen culture has always been on the forefront of change is that they still connect to their childhood drive and a passion to be dragon slayers. The dream is still alive in them. It has not died yet. Every young child wants to slay the dragon and win the fight. I don’t remember any fairytales where everyone sits around the TV eating takeout and mumbling about their day. 

The pressure to grow up is bigger every year. Last year, my 8th grade son brought home a note from school. The note stated he had to pick a college major, in order to apply for classes in high school, so they would know “what tract he belongs in.” Ummm… he is 14 he does not have a “college track.” Maybe that explains why parents appear to be running behind their kids, cleaning up messes, and trying to make life easier for them. Everything seems to be pushing our kids into the known areas of the map. 

As the leader of an outdoor ministry, one that places physical challenge at the top of our prerequisite for ministry, I constantly hear “teens today do not respond to a physical challenge like hiking.”  Recently, I sat at dinner with a group of youth pastors who told me repeatedly that all their teens like to do is play video games and “do not respond to a challenge.” A quick glance at YouTube disproves that theory. The “challenge” video directed at teens is one of the largest single blocks of videos on YouTube. Thumbing through my teen boys’ video game collection, I see that almost all of the popular games right now are about overcoming a challenge and overcoming some type of obstacle in order to win the day. I think teens still want to be challenged. In fact, I think they need challenge now more than ever. Are our ministries filling this need?

What if, instead of jumping into the mainstream current of forcing our students to grow up as soon as possible and play in the known areas of the map, we did something else? What if we pushed teens to be dragon slayers, explore the unknown edges of the map, and connect with that deep primal scream that desperately desires to be found worthy of adventure? Good coaches know that the best way to get better at something is to operate at the edge of your skill level. Are we as youth pastors doing the same thing or are we throwing our kids slow soft balls and wondering why they are not hitting high fast balls yet?

So how do you challenge your teens? A great place to start is by evaluating your programing. Are all of your programs a guaranteed success?  If everything is a slam dunk, maybe you should raise the rim a bit. What challenges do you place in front of your teens (Fluffy Bunny does not count)? When was the last time you really pushed them out of their comfort zone? Do you have any programs where teens are encouraged to test themselves and success is not guaranteed? 

As humans we are built for challenge. Some of the deepest spiritual wounds come from people who told us we are not up to the challenge, that we are failures. What would happen if instead of teaching teens to huddle in the challenge free areas of the map, we give them a sword and teach them to slay dragons? 

Youth Specialties

Youth Specialties exists to elevate the role of youth ministry and the youth worker to grow the faith of the next generation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.

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