“Youths are difficult to work with.”
“They are young and immature!”
“There’s a generation gap, I won’t be able to connect with them”
These are just some of the thoughts that may come to mind whenever someone is asked about youths today. Many often share that they cannot understand how youths think, nor relate to the struggles the youths go through today. As a result, it is better for those who have a burden for the youths, or the “youth experts” to work with the youths.
In churches, this attitude often translates to the youth ministry operating apart from the church. The youths and the adults both live in their individual bubbles, content in their own comfort zones. If we are not intentional to connect with the youths and disciple them, we may end up with the youths growing into a new church service at best. At worse, research conducted by Youth For Christ (UK) suggests that we may lose as many as 50% of churched youths.
Discipling youths is not something the youth ministry can achieve alone. It is not even something that can be done alone by parents. The church is also essential to every single youth’s growth. However, many people fear they are out of their depths to disciple the youths, I know because I was one of them. By God’s grace, I have learnt from my time as a youth overseer that it is not rocket science to connect with the youths – learning to be present and listen are two starting steps to discipleship.
It is common for youths to feel out of place and disregarded at the main service. I know this because I struggled similarly in my youth days. However, the first time I felt seen and valued was when one of the Elders took the time to speak to me. Subsequently, he would always call me by name and give me a hug each time he saw me. This simple act was so impactful because I was so used to being invisible in the congregation or ignored every time the adults have a conversation.
A busy Elder, with many duties and people to attend to, stopped to speak to me. He was present. He intentionally made time for me, asked about my welfare and showed me love. In a way, it is similar to how Jesus saw Zacchaeus and acknowledged him and spent time with him [Luke 19:1-10]. Perhaps it was not a big deal to the elder, but it made all the difference to me, showing me that the church cared for me.
Be a Listener
There was a season when I skipped youth ministry and hid in the cold staircases of our church building. One of the church members saw me and sat down with me. She took the time to listen to my story. Understanding my fear and discomfort, she encouraged me to attend and promised that she will be with me every step of the way. While I did not budge at that time, her words encouraged me to resume attending Youth ministry again the following week.
I thank God for both church members who created these pivotal moments in my church life. Together with countless other church members who have poured into my life as a youth, I have grown to be a follower of Christ. Their actions have now inspired me to give the same love and care I received to the youths today.
Brothers and sisters-in-Christ, as you fellowship at the breakfast area, or in the midst of catching up with friends in the Sanctuary, or even as you make your way to serve in another ministry, would you keep an eye out for opportunities to be present and to listen to a youth? In such confusing and often chaotic times, youths have it tough finding their place in the world.
Sometimes, all it takes is for one of us to offer a listening ear to the youth, befriend them and show them love for them to blossom. Phil 2:4 reminds us to look to the interests of others, and in so doing, you may be surprised how God might use you to make a faith impact on a youth.
by sister Christabelle Chan