“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
Just over 8 months ago, I decided to take a position as a part time Youth Pastor at a local church in south Saint Louis. Just a bit about the church: The church is Nazarene, which initially concerned me, given the theological differences. But its been good so far. The church demographic is 80% seniors (70+ years of age), 9% teens and children, and about 1% middle age and young adults. The majority of the adults who attend regularly are white folk, and the majority of teens and children are black. From these statistics alone, you notice that there are some major challenges that this small little church faces. Most of the teens and children are bused in from the neighboring communities, which means their parents do not attend church. Many of the teens come from blended and often broken homes. It is a challenging, but not impossible. I have learned quite a few things about teenagers and ministry since I began, and I would like to share them with you.
- All teenagers are bipolar and have some kind of brain damage- One moment they are up, the next they are down. Thank God they eventually grow out of it. Making that transition from completely dependent children to independent adults is challenging. For the youth pastor, this transition can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be extremely frustrating. I work with students who are primarily between the ages of 12-15. At this age, teens don’t often make the wisest decision, in fact most of their decision are completely dumb and not thought out, in my experience. Decisions are often made based on feelings/emotions. And feelings and emotions change every few seconds for teens. The job of the youth pastor is not dismiss their feelings, but to encourage healthy expression of them and to show them how to make the wisest decisions that are based on facts, truth, and biblical precepts.
- Peer pressure is a mega beast- I watched a little girl be pressured out of doing something she really wanted to do because her “friends” decided they did not want to participate. That kind of power in the wrong hands, with the wrong “friends” can be very dangerous to teenagers. I have learned to push back against that and encourage my teens to be individuals. Groupthink gives way to irrational decisions and teens need to know when to push back against the group and be an individual. This is hard, and as ministry leaders we must pray that good decisions are made.
- Parents are absolutely essential- I see a vast difference in the behavior of the students who’s parent attend church and those who’s parents do not. Ministry begins in the home. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, revered by both Jews and Christians alike, outlines the shema. The text says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates”. Notice how it speaks about home activities (talk while you sit, walk, sleep, and rise). Apostle Paul says it this way, particularly to the fathers who are the heads of the household, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph.6:4) Godly Parents are paramount to raising Godly children and teens. My job as the youth pastor is to come alongside of what is already happening in the home and reinforce these principles that are already being taught. My job becomes difficult when I’m trying to teach Christian values and they are not being upheld at home. One day a week is hardly enough to properly disciple a young person. It must happen in the home first from the parent.
- Expect youth to push against authority- This was my issue as a teenager- I didn’t like people to tell me what to do. I thought I was smarter than every adult and that I knew best. Of course I was absolutely wrong. I see this behavior and attitude in a number of my teens, especially the girls. At the beginning this used to bother me terribly, almost to the point of anger where I wanted to lash out against them. However, the Lord had to show me myself in them. I was the same way. Some of the attitude and disobedience comes from the lack of discipline from parents, but most of it is due to the growth process. Teens are becoming independent, making decisions on their own, and when someone with authority over them gives them direction, they push back. This is not a solely a human construct, but it is also seen in the animal kingdom among higher level species. The teenager of the lion pack, for example, often pushes against the dominant male, and is usually disciplined.
- Youth Pastor must teach the authority of God- Teens need to know that God is the ultimate authority and that there are consequences to behavior which violates that authority. God has established his authority and has given us the parameters by which we must live in order not to violate his authority. Violating the law of God means eternal damnation, period. We should not sugar coat this. As Jesus said to the Pharisees and the crowd of people in Luke 12, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.“
- Saturate young people with Love- Scripture says that “perfect love drives out all fear” (1 Jn. 4:18) and I believe that to be true more than ever. The goal of the youth pastor is to produce a likeness of Christ. How best to do that than to love those you minister to unconditionally. We must reciprocate the love that Christ has shown us.