Family-centered ministry. Some congregations have seen the problem with overly segregating teens from adults and so have responded by having families do events and projects together. It’s a good idea. But it’s not the best idea. I mean it has some serious problems —
* Many teens come to church at the invitation of a friend and have no parents in church at all.
* Many teens have only one parent in church.
* And some teens have multiple step parents — leading to some very complex problems defining “parents” and “family.”
* As great as it is when teens can see their parents in service and model their behavior, they need to see how other adults behave as Christians, too. Not all kids are like their parents or want to be like their parents. Sometimes a child needs to step outside his family to appreciate his family.
* But, mainly, we shouldn’t divide the church family into “parents with teens” and “others.” Rather, the teens need to be a part of a moral community filled with examples of the mature and the maturing — all sorts of people serving in all sorts of ways. They need to see singles living devoted lives before they marry. They need to see college students devoting themselves to Jesus on a secular campus. They need to see empty nesters continuing to serve after their kids have long gone. You see, while seeing their parents serve optimal , they need to see that Christianity isn’t just what parents do for their children.
Dumping work on the teens. I haven’t heard this in a while, but it used to be common in my congregation for those seeking volunteers to wonder why we don’t get more teens and college students to do the work. And I’m a big proponent of having teens and college students participate in the ministries of the church.
It’s just that you have to be willing to take the time to teach them how to do it right, and then walk alongside them while they master the skills. In the children’s program, this means that teens and college students can and should help, but few will be able to handle a class by themselves — not for a while.
And this means it’s harder to include them at first. It only gets easier much later. That’s the nature of things. Involving our youth in ministry will, as a rule, make ministry harder — but only in the short run. In the long run, it’ll mean we have young adults who’ve been trained and mentored in ministry and who think being involved in ministry is natural and fun.
The goal, therefore, isn’t to relieve the load on the adults, but to have them also mentor the teens — which is more work — until the teens master the skills and mature into the work.
Neatness. Some of us — me especially — like nice organizational charts with clear lines of authority and job descriptions. This is going to be messy, because it’s a call for a radical culture shift. The adults are used to not being bothered by the teens (unless the adults volunteer for the teen ministry), and the teens are used to not being bothered by the adults. Disciplining ourselves to creatively find ways to minister alongside one another will be hard.
But it has to be churchwide or not at all. There are very few exempted ministries. Everyone needs to be willing to work with adolescents in their ministry. Everyone needs to be prepared to serve alongside someone younger. And it won’t be easy. We’ll make plently of mistakes, and when we do, we need to honestly admit that it didn’t work, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try something else — without pointing fingers.
Forcing the teens to grow up too fast. In the First Century, girls married shortly after puberty. Girls are now waiting until they’re 30 or older to marry — because we’ve extended adolescence beyond the teens years, into college, and now into their 20s. I guess one day no one will ever have to grow up!
But teens aren’t adults. Physiologically, their brains aren’t fully developed until at least age 16. So they aren’t ready to be fully adults. But neither should they be as immature as they are. Now, you don’t mature them by demanding that they change. You let them grow up in the most natural way possible — by being with adults and giving them the chance to learn how to act like adults.
And rather than teaching to the most immature child in the group — and thereby punishing those ready to do more and learn more — we need more individualized instruction. And this is most naturally done in a ministry setting.
A few years ago, our college students spent 6 months a year preparing to travel halfway around the world to teach the Bible in a foreign land. They made many converts, developed a taste for missions, and many have gone on to become full-time missionaries — from a very secular university.
I’ve seen teenagers give up a Monday night — during the school year — to sit in a study circle of 30 or more and do verse-by-verse study, on a purely voluntary basis.
I’ve seen teens and college students do amazing things — when given the chance.
I have to add this note. A reader sent me a link to the Rebelution website — by a couple of teens about the need to encourage teens to grow up faster. They write,
In 1 Timothy 4:12, the Apostle Paul tells Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” In other words, as young people we are called to be exemplary in all areas of life. Our generation is falling incredibly short of that calling. Instead of serving as the launching pad of life, the teen years are seen as a vacation from responsibility. We call it the “myth of adolescence.” And the Rebelution is all about busting that myth.
Our battle cry is just three words, but it’s an explosive concept: Do Hard Things. That’s it. And “do hard things” is a mentality. It’s a mentality that flies right in the face of low expectations. The world says, “You’re young, have fun!” It tells us to “obey your thirst” and “just do it.” Or it tells us, “You’re great! You don’t need to exert yourself.” But those kinds of mindsets sabotage character and competence.
I feel so affirmed!
Another way to do teen ministry. It’s really another way to do church — because this idea just doesn’t work unless there are adults doing ministry in a way that permits the teens to serve alongside them. Some churches may need to work on the missionality of their adults before even considering this approach. After all, if the adults have no interest in doing short-term missions for the sake of the mission — rather than for their own kids — it just won’t work.