Opioid addiction. Alcohol. Marijuana. A Xanax overdose. Speeding on the way to school after the overdose.
Andrew’s high school story is startling. And true.
Andrew was a student at our neighborhood high school, the one our kids will go to. The school many of our students attended while I was in youth ministry. Andrew had this pressing desire:
Andrew wanted to act like an adult.
He was 12 when he first tasted beer from his parents’ refrigerator. Before long, Andrew had tried almost everything. And he was in 9th grade.
Earlier Start + Later Finish = Longer Race
Andrew’s story is not uncommon. Many kids will encounter one aspect of his journey or another, not all at once. But the challenge remains: younger people are facing mounting challenges.
Add elite athletic and academic programs, pressure on social media, and this is toxic. “Sex, drugs, and rock & roll” have been challenging younger people for generations, but we’re moving at warp speed.
Not Your Mama’s Youth Group
Hiding these challenges isn’t helping anyone. Expecting our younger people to be clean cut, perfect, and “nice” will only deepen the divide between us and them. It will be harder to discover true empathy.
Growing Young says,
Over 80 percent of the young people in the congregations we surveyed agree that their church involvement decreases their stress.
Supernaturally, we have to believe the power of grace transcends all generations. This is what Jesus brings to us when we decide to follow Him.
Practically, these rhythms bring health and vitality to younger people while they exercise their faith:
- mentoring through discipleship
- slowing down in prayer
We need to transcend our memories of youth group days past. We cannot reproduce our youth group and expect the same reach to a new generation.
It convincingly demonstrates that many of our assumptions about youth and religion in the U.S. are well off the mark.
We need to listen to two voices to influence how we craft ministry to younger people:
- younger people
- Jesus (Not necessarily in that order.)
On Expectations for Younger People
How many of you have heard someone point to a younger person’s mobile device and say,
“Put that thing down.”
How many of you have been the one to say it? I (Kim) have. Aaron has.
And when I spent time with my younger cousins recently, I realized maybe I was off base. They carried on healthy interaction, and they were fully present at our holiday game night.
They just so happened to also carry on sidebars with friends. They posted photos and share the experience with more than those seated around them at the time.
These younger people are “digital natives,” as Marc Prensky described about educating students. Marc’s premise was this:
Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.
Telling a younger person to “put that thing down” is not the best thing you can do for them. It shows your ignorance for who they are.
Our younger people have changed, and we need to adapt how we interact with them.
If 7 out of every 10 younger people have significant doubts, we have to be willing to listen without fixing.7 out of 10 younger people have significant doubts about Jesus: we have to listen without fixing.Click To Tweet
We have to empathize with them, hear them, and not try to fix them.
Our younger people need four things from us to develop a strong faith:
- space to ask tough questions
- space to wrestle with the significance of faith in Jesus
- space to begin to understand their faith
- space where we continued to put Jesus in front of them
It is not a sign of weakness when they ask a question or convey some sense of wonder about, “what does this mean to me?”
This is why empathizing with younger people is one of FYI’s 6 crucial steps to Growing Young.
If we do not know, if we have not listened, then we cannot understand.
And younger people, Andrew included, need us to understand.