Let’s take a trip back to the year 2000. Things were different then. AOL was still the best way to get on the internet, one could get through airport security without taking off their shoes and there was no such thing as a smart phone. In the latter half of the year 2000, I was a senior in high school. Things for me were difficult at home, I was trying to figure out what exactly I was suppose to do after high school and was overall just in a strange place.
I was involved in youth group and my church. It was there God cultivated growth in my spiritual walk. He did this through time in the Word, my friends who loved Jesus and loving, caring adults. I want to spend some time on that last one: loving, caring adults. Adults who loved Jesus and poured into me with time, love and wisdom. My youth pastor Henry and my small group leader Michael were those guys for me.
These men invested a ton of time into me and I just don’t mean at church.
These men went out of their way to connect with me outside of church. During my senior year of high school, after every Wednesday night youth group, my youth pastor would take myself and two other guys out to get chicken fingers and fries. EVERY WEEK for a YEAR! My entire junior and senior year I would hang out at my small group leader’s house with his family. He invited me in to be a part. These men invested in my life. I knew if I had a problem they would be there. If I needed to talk, they would be there. If I just wanted to hang out, they would be there.
These men were there. Their example has taught me the importance of just being there for others. They showed me Jesus in practical and impractical ways. Both my youth pastor and small group leader did a lot of teaching. The teaching I remember most from both of them was not the things taught in youth group or small group. The best things they did for me was just being there. Showing up. Being available. Showing me Jesus in the way they lived their lives.
Many students are a lot like me when I was in youth group 15 years ago. There is still a need for positive adults who love Jesus to be available and show the students Christ’s love. They yearn for adults who will listen, love, and be available to them. It can be as simple as having a conversation and building a relationship with a student on Sunday. We all can do that to some capacity.
God used the men who poured into me to set the trajectory of my life toward loving Jesus. God used them to literally change my life. I could have gone a tone of different directions after high school, but the path these men help set put me on the path of loving Jesus.
By Andy Herndon
Things aren’t what they use to be. It’s a common refrain we hear from time to time. Times are always changing. Advancements in transportation, communication and information technology have made the world a much smaller place.
This week we’re talking about the influence of the media on our teens. This is not a new concept. The influence of media, art and entertainment has for a long time had an influence on culture. Whether the newspaper, theater or TV, they influence us. This isn’t exclusive to the 20th century. William Shakespeare’s work had such a great influence on the culture of the English speaking work it’s believed he invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original. (www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html)
Knowing that media and art has always influenced us and our culture, it’s no surprise that the same is true of today. There has been a shift though in the last 10 years as to how art, entertainment and media influences us and our teens.
Enter the smart phone.
Now I want to be clear here. This is not a call to abandon your iPhone in exchange for landlines or to completely cut ourselves off from media, art and entertainment. But the advent of the smart phone has brought media into our pockets. Children to senior adults have changed the way they consume media.
What does this mean for our teenagers? From the moment they wake until they fall asleep they are constantly connected. But at what cost? Though I myself very much enjoying the benefits of technology, I’ve come to the realization that I am often too dependent on it. Much is the same for our students, but not in the way you think. This generation appears to be the most connected in history , yet they are very much alone. The world of media has given them a false sense of connection and community. That’s not to say one can not find connection and community online. Though online community can be a supplement to true community, it can’t take the place of it. Much like a vitamin supplement with a balanced healthy diet can enhance your health, no one would ever live off of vitamin supplements alone.
So what do we do as a church to come alongside our students? There is no definite answer. The answer is not opening a snapchat account and start live tweeting our every movement. Friendships and relationships outside of Facebook force us to be vulnerable. This is scary for a teenager or an adult. What we can do is pray and be available for our students. Show them the love of Christ in the community of the church in real life. We can use social media to invite our teens to engage in true community. I would encourage you to find ways to encourage students using technology such as social media. Share those ways with others and use social media as a tool for encouragement.
I’ve been involved in some sort of church summer camp every summer for the last 17 years…literally. Either as a student, counselor, speaker or worship leader, camp has been a regular part of my summer. Getting away from the noises and distractions of the world and taking a week or more to focus on my relationship with Christ was vital in my own relationship with Jesus as a high schooler. It was at summer camp where I surrendered my life to vocational ministry at the age of 16. It was at camp that Christ worked on my heart as I was dealing with the pain of being in a broken home. Camp has been important in my own spiritual growth.
This last week I attended Southern Oregon Christian Camp with our students. While there, students grew closer to Christ. Some began a relationship with Christ and 4 of our students were baptized. It was an incredible week. God moved in the hearts of both students and adults and it was amazing to see God change and soften the hardest of hearts.
While there I was reminded of the realities many of our students face. Here are a few observations I made while at camp:
Many of the students who attend our church and youth group come from very difficult family situations. When I was a teenager, divorce was the biggest issue facing families. Things have changed. Though divorce is still a huge issue and is very difficult, many students live in single parent homes and have no relationship with a biological parent. Often students have never even met their biological father, while others currently reside in foster care, have been adopted, have parents who abuse drugs or alcohol or have parents who are incarcerated. These students do not know what it means to have the love of a family because they have never experienced it. They need to experience the love of our Heavenly Father and the love of the family of God, the church.
The World is Relentless
To quote Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a changing”. Not to get into anything specific, but being a teenager in this culture means you are being bombarded with constant messages that are often contrary to the truth found in Scripture. Not only that, but those who hold to the truths found in scripture are often painted in a naive and negative light. Relativism has permeated our culture and the idea that there is absolute truth, one God or one way, is seen as not only outdated but close-minded and foolish. For a student to come into a relationship with Christ often times means being ridiculed for their beliefs by both friends and family.
Teenagers Need Adults They Can Trust
Whether it was a family member, friend or parent, many of our students have been betrayed and deeply hurt by adults. This ranges from workaholic or absentee parents to the absolute and outright abandonment, abuse and neglect. Students need positive adults in their life who they can trust. Adults who will just be there.
Teenagers Want Answers
I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had in the last 2 weeks regarding some of the most difficult questions of life, culture and faith. Students today will not walk blindly into a relationship with Christ. They see through fake facades and surface level answers. They want to know what the implications of following Christ are. Over half of the students who attend our Junior High and High School youth groups will openly state they are not Christ followers. This may seem discouraging and at times it is, but the encouraging part of this is students are truly counting the cost of following Jesus. In this current cultural climate being a nominal Christian is becoming less and less common.
So what does this have to do with the church as a whole? Three weeks ago I talked about how the church and youth ministry are often a one earned Mickey Mouse. That is the youth ministry is often outside of the church (see my post about that here). For the last two weeks I have challenged our high school students to be a part of the church as a whole. Don’t just come on Wednesdays, but engage with the 8 year old and the 80 year old. We’ve talked about what it means to be in community and fellowship with other Christ followers. As I continue to encourage our teens to engage the church as a whole I would ask for your prayers. Our teens need it.
Pray for our students who come from difficult family situations that they would find belonging in the family of God, the church.
Pray for our students who come from wonderful Christ centered families as they embrace Christ and grow into their personal relationship with Him. Pray that God would use them as missionaries among their peers and that they would stand firm in Christ.
Pray for all of our students as they count the cost of following Jesus.