Two Assumptions that Have to Go
As youth pastors, we all struggle with the tension between ministering to those kids who truly “get it” and to those who still have a way to go. Because of this, we tend to make assumptions about our students and how we should teach them. Two assumptions in particular can be extremely harmful to our students and have to go:
1) We assume biblical literacy and knowledge.
In my early days of youth ministry, I lived and worked in a typical small town with churches on every corner. Cultural Christianity had thoroughly whitewashed that little town, and it seemed as if everyone were a Christian. But not everyone was. In fact, even though we had a church on every corner, there were still people who had never stepped foot inside of one or even opened a Bible before.
I was reminded of this during an Upward basketball practice. I was coaching a team of fourth graders, and I must say we were awesome! Two teams would practice during the same hour, each using half of the gym. If you’re familiar with Upward, you know that there’s a mandatory Bible-study break at the halfway point of each practice. On this particular night, I could faintly overhear the other coach leading his Bible study just as I was doing with my own team. The verse for that particular week was John 3:16. Every player had to be able to say it from memory before we could move on with practice. I overheard the other coach say to one of his students, “You’ve never heard John 3:16? Yes you have. Everyone knows John 3:16!” This kid had never heard the most quoted Scripture in all of Christendom. That team’s coach was a good one, and after practice he took the time to explain to the student the full meaning of the verse. The coach introduced that kid to the gospel he’d never heard before.
When you’re speaking to your group—whether it’s a large group, small group, or any other format—don’t assume the students know the Bible. Don’t assume they’ve heard it all before, because there’s most likely at least one student hearing something brand new to them. It also could be the first time a regular attender actually opens his or her ears to really listen. There’s no reason to breeze over any Scripture—especially the gospel, which is what John 3:16 is.
2) We assume they won’t listen or don’t care.
This is perhaps my biggest battle.
We minister to a multitasking generation. They’ve been taught their whole lives that they can do 10 things at once. Computers, tablets, and phones can run multiple apps in multiple windows all at the same time—in fact, if your phone isn’t able to do three or four things all at once, then it’s outdated. It doesn’t matter for this conversation whether multitasking is a good thing or a bad thing. What matters is that the way our students engage with many things at once has caused us to change the way we speak and teach.
We assume that because students won’t focus on just one thing for more than a few seconds that they won’t engage in our talks for any real amount of time. This can also lead us to believe that they don’t care enough to listen for any measurable length of time.
This simply isn’t the case. In fact, I read a study that surveyed youth groups across the country, and one of the questions asked was about how long those students were willing to listen to a youth pastor speak. I was shocked to learn that while some students wanted to listen to no more than 15 minutes of a message, the vast majority were willing to listen for 30 to 45 minutes. Doesn’t that blow your mind!
There’s one important detail to those findings: for those students who said they were more than happy to listen to a longer message, the material had to be relevant, and it needed to have depth. These teens weren’t about to sit through a long message that was nothing but a shallow rambling. They want real, solid, biblical teaching.
My encouragement to every youth pastor is this: your students are listening, and they do care. Some of them don’t know yet that they’re supposed to care—so don’t give up. Do the work when you speak or teach. Don’t be afraid to push students out of their comfort zones and get them to think deeply. Prepare a message as if the material is all brand new to them. Your students don’t need a comedy act—they need to be led from point A to point B and shown how to live in the grace of God every day.
Joseph Fowler has a passion for leading youth, and reaching those who are far from God. Currently the Associate Pastor to Youth and Families at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, AL, he and his wife, Kinsley, have been able to create a thriving atmosphere for students to meet Jesus. He’s a sports fanatic, outdoorsman, pop culture connoisseur, and gamer.
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.