I grew up going to a church youth group every week. I’ve ‘been knowin’ Jesus’ a long time (if you’re from P-Town – Portsmouth, VA – then you know all about the people ‘you been knowin” too) and I still be knowin’ Him today.
I try to write for youth workers and youth ministers no matter what their beliefs, because ultimately I believe youth are youth and these ideas can help anyone.
However, today I’m pretty much talking to religious (please don’t Jesus Juke me here, I know its about relationship not religion), faith-based or spiritual youth workers.
Other than the handful of typical Christian teen topics such as ‘Don’t have sex before marriage’ and ‘How can you witness at school to your unsaved friends’, I don’t remember a whole lot of practical advice. At least, not like the discussions and sessions I have with the non-Christian (unchurched, unreached, etc.) young people that I now work with all the time.
The question I pose to you today is this: Should we ONLY talk about faith (and other clearly spiritual things) in our faith-based programming?
Don’t get me wrong. I have a strong biblical foundation from my years in those youth groups that serve me well as an adult and I had a blast. Some of my dearest memories are from those times in my life.
But the Bible is all I can remember really learning about. Are we missing a key opportunity to speak about ‘normal teenage stuff’ to the youth in our care? Would we attract more young people to faith if it seemed like it really impacted on the regular, everyday things in our lives?
As adults, we’re very good at taking what we learned and applying it to many different areas of our lives. But young people, as we discussed previously, have a hard time with option generation and reasoning things out. By helping them make the connections between their faith and their ‘regular life’, we might be helping young people more effectively live out the faith they proclaim.
I once received a communication from a city-wide, faith-based youth worker who said that issues affecting youth throughout the community weren’t affecting the youth in their group. Really? Not one youth in your group deals with teen pregnancy, STIs, youth poverty or academic challenges?
Often we try and explore youth issues by talking about Timothy or David and giving examples from their lives. Our topics include forgiving 77 x 7, hearing from God and the Good Samaritan. But what about making it more practical and relevant by exploring aggression management, communication or racial profiling, while still exploring what your faith says about those issues?
I believe it’s about flipping our approach to the study of scripture in our youth groups. Often it’s ‘Let’s read this passage and then apply it our lives’, instead of ‘This is a real issue going on in your life, in the lives of your friends, in your family, in your community, in your nation, in the world’. What does scripture teach about that, or what does it teach us that might help us make a decision about that subject?
Let’s encourage youth to make just, ethical and moral judgments in every aspect of their lives by really digging into issues often left to ‘secular’ youth workers and exploring how faith and ‘real life’ really go hand in hand. Let’s offer after-school programs and tutoring, simply because it supports the youth in our community.
I would like to see more faith-based organizations use a holistic approach to youth ministry by exploring tough issues, encouraging questioning and using informal education opportunities to really effect real change in the lives of the youth in the church and beyond, by meeting their needs and equipping them for a life of faith.
Question: Do you think that faith should be the primary focus of church and other faith-based organization’s youth work programming? Share your opinions in the comments below.
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