Some think teenagers are precious works in progress, and others are overwhelmed by their messiness. Many church members think serving teenagers is a lot like serving babies: there are those who have the “gift” of youth ministry, and those who simply don’t.
And let’s be honest—teenagers can be messy. I’m a teenager, and I admit that. We aren’t always the easiest to serve. Even those of us following Jesus are still young, inexperienced, and have much to learn. We’re in a different stage of life than any other church member, so it can be difficult to relate to our persistent challenges, struggles, and questions.
But whether you know it or not, the teenagers in your church need you. They need the whole church—pastor, stay-at-home mom, single, married, retired—to love and welcome them as fellow members of the family.
Over my 18 years in the church, I’ve seen three ways every church member can (and should) serve their teenagers: by getting to know us, by not underestimating us, and by teaching us.
1. Get to Know Us
Love can’t thrive where stereotypes and misunderstandings reign. If you don’t know the teenagers at your church, you can’t serve them (Gal. 5:13). Start by pulling them into the life and heartbeat of your church through communication. Walk up to a teen or two this Sunday and ask them about their week, about their studies and hobbies, and what they’ve recently read in the Bible. Tell them about yourself. Create a meaningful dialogue as the first step to building a relationship. You’ll discover fears, insecurities, needs, and desires that will equip you to serve them with an intentionality you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Teenagers need adults to be our friends, not just our teachers. That’s important to us. It shows us we’re welcomed and loved. Too often Christian teenagers can feel like second-class citizens, like we’re in limbo between “first class” adult members and “third class” little kids. But investing in us reminds us that we’re part of the family. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about members of the church as different parts of the same body—eyes, ears, feet, hands. He paints a picture of unified diversity. In other words, the church needs middle-aged eyes and 20-something ears and senior hands just as much as it needs teenaged feet.
2. Don’t Underestimate Us
When considering how to minister to the Christian teenagers at your church, don’t stifle us with low expectations. Expect that we’re thinking and growing, that we’re pursuing truth and holiness, and that we want sound doctrine. Don’t perpetuate stereotypes of ignorance or immaturity without foundation. That’s unfair. We don’t think of the seniors in our churches as inept and senile. We know they’re individuals with real personalities and passions.
Sometimes adults can make faulty and hurtful assumptions about teenagers without even realizing it. It bothers me when I hear negative generalizations about my generation. Yes, there are some immature teenagers. Yes, there are some teenagers who are consistently irresponsible, disrespectful, and disobedient to their parents. But that’s not who we all are.
So don’t expect the worst from your teenaged church members. Don’t underestimate us. Raise your expectations for us to those of any other young and growing Christian.
3. Teach Us
Now I know I said earlier that teenagers need you to be our friends, not just our teachers, but the key word was just. We most definitely need you to teach us too. We’re looking for a certain kind of teacher, though. We’re looking for those who’ll come alongside us and humbly demonstrate what it means to live for Jesus, not instructors who want to lord knowledge over us or stuff rules down our throats.
I can’t tell you how much my church has taught me about compassion, kindness, gentleness, service, speaking the truth in love, and forgiveness. Most of it has come just from watching them live. I watch how they make meals for families in grief. I watch how they resolve conflicts. I watch how they sit with people who sit alone or greet visitors with inviting warmth. I watch how eager they are to learn the truth, how they care for children, and how they pray in public.
Teenagers are watching you, too. I promise you that. We see it all, we think about it all, we learn from it all. The church members who’ve taught me the most are not the Sunday school teachers and youth leaders. They’re the people 10 feet out of the spotlight who’ve served me by modeling godliness and grace.
Will You Help?
So I get it. Teenaged Christians aren’t always the easiest to serve. But here’s the thing—we need you. We’re at a critical stage in life, coming into our own, piecing together answers to our biggest questions, and forming our lifelong relationship with the church.
To you, church member, I ask: Will you help us? Will you be there for us? Will you get to know us? Will you expect great things from us? And will you teach us what it means to follow Jesus?
We may be different than you, but we’re all running this race together. Please serve us, and let us serve you.