Pros and Cons: Entering the World of Teenagers
A church youth worker committed to entering the world of teenagers was instrumental in my coming to faith. By coming to an eighth grade basketball game, he enhanced my understanding of the importance of God’s incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ. By seeing an adult humble himself to walk onto middle school turf and build a relationship with me, I was able to catch a glimpse of what God did in joining us on earth.
Mine is not the only life that has been changed by this approach to youth ministry. Many kids have seen the love of Christ in the lives of youth workers who have visited them at their plays, concerts, games, lunch periods, practices, jobs, recitals, or even in court. Many teenagers have trusted in and walked with Christ because the adults who introduced them had earned the kids’ trust.
These leaders coached a team, wrote kids a note, called them on the phone, or “accidentally” saw them at the mall. Remarkable things happen when Christian adults leave their comfort zones and enter the teenage world in any of these ways instead of waiting for kids to come to them or waiting for members of their youth group to bring them.
Relationships change lives more than any program ever will.
So What Are We Waiting For?
Why are many of us not pursuing kids in their worlds? Why are we still in our offices? Here are some arguments against entering the world of teenagers to build relationships with them, followed by some reasons that might motivate us to enter their lives. Consider the arguments and decide what you and your volunteers are going to do.
(ten reasons not to go where kids are)
- Somebody might ask when are you going to get a “real job” or some friends your own age.
- You’ll have less time for administrative work. When will you turn in your attendance numbers or fill out your (inflated) budget proposal if you are visiting kids at their jobs or schools?
- You might embarrass yourself by tripping down the bleachers at a crowded basketball game (talk about a high school flashback).
- You might be disturbed by some of the trends in youth culture (trends you’ve read about but haven’t seen up close) that manifest themselves in the way kids dress, talk, and treat one another. Your youth group kids and their friends are usually smart enough not to bring this stuff to church.
- You might meet a lost or lonely kid who thinks you are his friend and won’t stop calling you.
- It’s just plain scary (you’re embarrassed to admit it but it’s true).
- If you go to the school during the day, one of the school staff might ask you for a hall pass.
- You read a book about student leadership and you think it said your youth group kids should do all the contact work.
- You might see some of your church kids hanging out with and trying to impress “the bad kids.”
- You’ll have less time to get your latest ministry model published inYouthWorker Journal.
These are bona fide drawbacks (well, most of them are) that we all experience. Immersing ourselves in the lives of teenagers causes us to sacrifice many other ministry pursuits. But we must consider the benefits.
(twelve reasons to go ahead and open the cages and talk with the animals)
- God did it (John 1:14, Matthew 4:18-20, 9.9- 13, Mark 6:53-56 and 5:1-20, Luke 10:38-42).
- Paul did it (1 Thessalonians 1:4-10).
- Your words about Jesus will be more credible if teens know you understand their world or at least are trying to understand it.
- You’ll understand more of the influences that compete for teen’s loyalty.
- Your presence may hold believing kids accountable for their actions at school and remind them that following Jesus is an all-day, all-week job, not just a church thing (Matthew 23:27-28).
- You’ll meet and get to know kids who would never dare come to any church program, no matter how “cutting edge” it is (John 4:1-20, Mark 5:1-20).
- Christian kids you know will see you talking to those kids and transfer the principle to their own lives (John 4:27). This is how students will come to own the evangelism part of your ministry.
- School staff (or bosses or coaches) will be encouraged by your risky, sacrificial love for the kids whom they struggle to love on a daily basis.
- We won’t win the war by sitting in the castle (Ephesians 6:10-20).
- The experience will bring you to your knees in greater dependence upon the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:20).
- Kids will eventually learn that your purpose is to be available to them and build a relationship with them.
- Your willingness to be with them in their world will speak loudly about God’s love for them.
- What speaks louder to you, the risks or the rewards? What are you going to do? Are you going to stay at the office and keep planning better programs for your kids? Or are you going to take a risk and enter the lives of your kids and their friends where they are, in order to build life-changing relationships with them?
While many of us are championing new models for youth ministry, we shouldn’t overlook the simplest approach to showing teenagers the kingdom of God—building relationships with them by entering their world and demonstrating that we care about them. This builds the most solid foundation for introducing them to Jesus and helping them walk more closely with Him. Maybe you call it “contact work.” Maybe you feel the need to integrate it into some broader youth ministry paradigm. But whatever you do, don’t dismiss this direct approach as something for the kids in your youth group to do while the adults wait back at the church. True youth ministry always reaches beyond the church walls.
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.