Working with young people can be an exciting and rewarding kingdom endeavor. But for some it is the source of tremendous frustration. Finding the positive side of this work requires that we remember some things about working with this special group.
I. Remember that they are young.
- The most common mistake we make working with young people is to forget that they are young. We try to impose upon them the expectation of adult maturity and end up frustrated.
- There is certainly a need for balance here. We do not want to look the other way when kids are doing things that are wrong. However, there are times when adults need to lighten up a bit and recognize that they are working with kids.
II. Remember to have high expectations.
- This does not contradict the first point. It simply adds balance to the other side. While we cannot expect kids to have the maturity of adults, we can expect great things from them. Just the mention of names like Joseph, David, Josiah and Daniel immediately calls to mind the remarkable faith and courage these men exhibited in their youth. Turn to the New Testament and you will find that Paul had the highest expectations of Timothy (II Timothy 4:12).
- Some are content if teens attend, behave and fill in a few blanks in a workbook. But our kids can do so much more. We have found that our teenagers are willing to reach out and grasp “the bar” wherever we set it.
III. Remember to build relationships.
- There is an old sales principle that says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If you want to reach young people in your congregation, you must first build relationships with them. They need to know who you are and that you are genuinely interested in them.
- There are many ways to initiate and develop relationships with young people.
- Make it a point to spend some time talking with them at every service.
- Have them to your house regularly for pizza and a movie.
- Communicate with them using their methods (texting, facebook, pleonast).
- Go to their events (ball games, band concerts, birthday parties, plays).
- Don’t just talk about spiritual things. Discuss their favorite sports team and what play their drama club is putting on.
IV. Remember to behave appropriately.
- Building relationships will require spending time with young people. While we do this, we must always make sure that our behavior is always exemplary. As young people begin to trust and respect us, it is vital that we set an example worthy to be imitated.
- Be especially careful about the way you interact with young ladies. With so much in the news about misconduct on the part of “religious leaders,” it is vital that our conduct always be above reproach. We must avoid even the appearance of impropriety. If you are married, work together with your wife. If you are not married, find a lady in the congregation who can take on this role.
V. Remember to create opportunities.
- It is not enough to merely expect a lot from our kids. We must create opportunities for them to be involved in the Lord’s work (I Peter 4:10). These opportunities should involve work that is meaningful and important. If all we offer are token tasks, kids will see right through it and will be insulted rather than encouraged.
- Training and guidance are vital parts of this process. It is a mistake to give young people a task to complete without first training and equipping them to do it well. As we create opportunities for young people to serve, it is vital that we equip them to execute the task well. Encourage your adult members who serve to find some young person that they can train to do what they do.
VI. Remember to engage parents.
- While it is important to build relationships and create opportunities for young people to get involved, you must also remember that you are not the “youth minister.” It is not your task to serve as the spiritual “cruise director” for the youth of the congregation. When someone comes along who is interested in young people and who plans activities for them, it becomes easy for parents to step back and allow them to do it all. This is not a healthy situation for you, the families or the congregation.
- Rather than taking on the burden of planning everything for the kids yourself, engage parents in the process. Make them an integral part of everything you do. Your work with young people will be most productive when it is done in concert with parents.
VII. Remember to listen.
- If we are not careful, sometimes we can be dismissive of young people. Because of their youth and inexperience, we can see them as having little to offer. We see them as the objects of our teaching and not someone from whom we need to learn. This attitude can cause us to tune them out when they are trying to communicate with us.
- This leads to two serious problems that impede our ability to work with youth.
- First, kids know when they are being tuned out. They will assume that we do not care about them and will have little interest in what we have to say.
- Second, our failure to listen deprives us of critical information that we need to teach this group. Stephen Covey’s list of seven habits of highly effective people includes this, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Listening will help us understand where they are so that we can lead them to the place God wants them to be.
VIII. Remember to teach.
- While it is important to listen and understand young people, it is also vital that we keep our balance and remember that we are the teachers. Our responsibility is to impart God’s wisdom to these young, impressionable minds (II Timothy 4:1-5). Some teachers view Bible class or devotions as a time to “shoot the spiritual breeze.” They throw out ideas and allow the kids to express themselves. In an effort to draw out the kids, they try to be open minded and avoid being judgmental.
- In reality, they are not serving as teachers at all. They send the kids away without the information they need to serve the Lord. As we have said, it is important to listen to young people and allow them to honestly express how they feel. However, it is equally important that we TEACH young people. They need to go away from our study with no doubts about what is right and wrong. This means we must be the “bad guy” at times. Telling young people the truth will occasionally make them angry with us. It’s okay if this happens. As we continue to show our love, build relationships and listen, they will come to respect us for telling them the truth.
IX. Remember to be positive.
- The disposition we exhibit before the youth in our congregations will dramatically impact our relationship with them and our ability to teach them. Some adults seem to have a sour disposition toward kids. It appears that they are anticipating that the young people are going to do something wrong and they are ready to pounce on them. This kind of negative disposition will drive kids away.
- By contrast, a positive disposition will draw young people to you and make them more receptive to your teaching. With this in mind, consider these practical suggestions:
X. Remember this work is vital.
- Young people are not the most important group in the congregation. We must make sure that our efforts with them do not leave others with that impression.
- However, they are the most at risk group among us. They need our special attention and diligent efforts to help them build a strong spiritual foundation that will help them become effective servants of the Lord.
– David A. Banning[print_link] [email_link]