Really Mean: When Churches Say They Value Teenagers
I was in a bad mood.
I stood there in line at some store that I can’t remember and the music over the intercom was a little loud, making the exchange at the register a frustrating. When I approached the register, a young, probably 19 year old girl greeted me and I said hello back.
As I started to put my items on the counter, a familiar 90’s jam called “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows came on the loudspeaker.
“Oh! I love this song! It’s my favorite!” the girl said. (I was in a bad mood.)
“Do you know who this band is?” I asked, raising one eyebrow. She stuttered and stammered and clearly didn’t know.
“Say ‘I thought this was your favorite?’ in a mocking tone,” the little devil sitting on my left shoulder said.
“No, be nice. It’s not her fault you’re in a bad mood. Besides, she was probably born the year that song came out,” right shoulder angel reasoned.
So I simply said, “This is the Counting Crows. They played back in the 90s when I was in high school.” She was cool about it and happy to sit at my feet soaking up mid-90s music lore. I could tell.
It made me angry a little for her to say something was her favorite and not even know who wrote the song. I thought:
How shallow. I seriously doubt that you really love this song. If you did, you’d know more about who wrote it, what it was about, and when it was popular. I mean, I know it’s no 21 Pilots, but come on! #sarcasmfont
As much as I love social media, one of the gravest injuries it has done to us is create a false understanding of value.
- Because I “like” a page or tweet, we think that’s value.
- Because we get righteously indignant or post #prayfor_____ graphics, we think that means it’s valuable to us.
- Because we say we love students in our church and have a student ministry, we think we value student ministry.
But just saying or clicking doesn’t mean we really value things. Not really. Value implies actionable life change and if it doesn’t change you, I doubt it’s truly valuable. Isn’t that the way we talk about Jesus? Isn’t He all about life change?
The problem is that we have removed any emotional measurements for anything but extremes, and it’s killing our ability to genuinely care for causes, others, and even ourselves. We either love it, or we hate it. It’s awesome, or it’s the worst. No range, just extremes. We wonder why our country is so polarized…
I’ve been in several churches that mean well enough, but either don’t understand what real value looks like or don’t care enough to find out how to truly show value to a student ministry. I’ve been in a few who do. Let me tell what those who really do value student ministry have in common…
A Church Who Values Students Has Plenty of Adults to Work With Them
Students between 6th grade and 12th grade experience a range of emotions and are increasingly placed in difficult home situations. “It takes a village” as they say, and the same is true in youth ministry.
By the time a student reaches 8th grade, you can start to see which direction they are headed a Godly adult intervenes and begins to mentor them. By 10th grade, they get car keys, and they finalize any previously unguided decisions. By college, previous decisions are cemented in until students either hit rock bottom or apathy sets in.
Wise, Godly adults realize the importance of a non-family mentor in the lives of teenagers, and the ministry shouldn’t be hurting to find those willing to invest.
If finding adults is a problem, then it’s not a problem with your youth ministry, it’s a problem with your adult ministry, so stop blaming the 23 year old youth pastor. Stick this one on the pastor, elders, and anyone else over adult ministry.
A Church Who Values Students Has No “Youth Sunday”
I hate youth Sunday. Want to know why? Because at churches that have them, it is often the only time students are allowed to be involved in a Sunday service other than just gritting their teeth and enduring it. (Before opting yourself out because you do more than one youth Sunday, read on).
If you want to pat yourselves on the back for letting the kids get on stage once in a while so you feel better about it, go ahead. But that doesn’t mean you truly value students. It means you tolerate them. Otherwise, the only time churches like this even think about students is when they need something cleaned or something breaks (because, yeah, the student ministry probably broke it).
A church who values students will speak to them and about them as if they are part of the church today, not tomorrow. This kind of church needs no set-aside recognition of students. Why? Because of the next two things…
A Church Who Values Students Acknowledges They are Present in Services
I love it when pastor makes a point on stage, and then says “Now students, what this looks like for you could be….” and gives his Truth point a context for students and young adults. It lets them know that he thought about them when he was preparing to teach. Before, not after.
It lets them know that they are valued and considered, instead of second class, who came to the service to pick up scraps from incredible meals that were really meant for their parents. “Hey kids, come endure this…at the kid table.”
Churches who get it will have video testimonials that sometimes feature students. Stories of evangelism told from the pulpit will sometimes highlight how students shared their faith, not just adults. Elements of your service might be incorporated because they appeal to students (like social media handles on the screen for those who are on stage). The pastor might even speak sometimes in the youth service (pssst…he’ll even wear jeans). I know, crazy, right?
A Church Who Values Students Disciples Them Through Meaningful Service
Students probably know more about live streaming your service than adults do. They can help you with your social media presence and can give you incredible outreach ideas.
At any given moment, visitors should be able to look around at who is serving in your church and see a few students in the tech booth, passing the plate, greeting out front, or playing in the band.
Why? Because that’s how you learn to do things; by doing them under the supervision of a mentor who coaches you to become better at it. A pastor friend of mine named Julian recently said to me, “We’d rather see a student fail than an adult succeed.” I think that’s brilliant.
A church who values students will mentor students in leadership roles of service that are both meaningful and within the passions or strengths of those students.
The bottom line is that if your church truly values students, then there will be visible markers that you do.
Constantly saying “we love students here” isn’t true value and they know it. This generation is incredibly distrusting, given they have lived through a recession, the decline of trust in the news media, and have watched their parents struggle financially because they were terrible savers.
So they ain’t buying it. You’re going to have to prove it.
I am so thankful for those who work with students in the context of the local church. You are working with students during the most intense part of their childhood. They are transitioning from being kids to being adults and launching into a world that has already branded them as “too” something.
Too young, too immature, too inexperienced, too emotional, too uneducated…
But you know better. Keep up the good fight for those teenage souls and know that though you may not hear it, you’ve got people in the stands cheering for you. God knows I am.
Of course, I could be way off about all of this. Maybe I ate some bad pizza. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood.