I spent my spring break chaperoning a choir trip with 50 Christian teenagers. While it meant six nights with a far later bedtime than I usually prefer, it was also a great opportunity to thank God for this awesome group—and think more about the role God has for them in his family.
Encourage them to lead now.
It’s a (grammatical) pet peeve of mine when people tell teens they are the future of the church. Every person who is in the body of Christ is already a vital part of it, which means teens are the present of the church and have important roles they can play. Yes, with their school, extracurriculars, and work schedules, they don’t have much spare time, but you can ask them to help with Sunday school, be on the prayer chain, serve as greeters, play an instrument or sing, read the Scripture, participate in community service ministries. Help them realize that their schools, jobs, teams, and clubs are their mission field and to not “let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Prepare them to lead later.
OK, so while I might not love the phrase “future of the church,” I also realize that teens are the future leaders of the church. At a time in the United States when atheism is rising among teens and only 59 percent of students ages 13-18 identify as Christian, we cannot afford to lose more teens. The more we involve teens now, the more they will see that living their faith and serving others is a natural part of their lives—and they’ll pass that down as they get older.
While it will take intentional effort and extra time, reach out to teens in your life and ask them how the church can serve them and others more effectively. Get their opinions about how to get involved and live their faith. If their ideas are reasonable, ask them to help you implement them. If their ideas aren’t feasible, explain why. After all, they don’t have the same life experience you do and may not have the full picture. Doing this will help them feel as if they have a say in the body—their body—of believers.
Give them grace.
When I looked at these young adults, I knew they were all struggling with something. Maybe it was the weight of high school, homework, and extracurriculars. Others were wondering what to do for training or schooling after graduation. Some have challenges at home. Others don’t feel confident in their image, whether it’s their bodies or talents or personalities. They deal with the stress of relationships, hormones, and temptations. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they don’t.
Does that sound familiar? We all have successes and failures, struggles and victories. As teens navigate this world, we can tell them we’ve been there and understand. Then we encourage them, reassure them, pick them up, laugh with them, correct them when needed, give them grace—and more grace.
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who was tired after a long week with little sleep, so she took a nap before she wrote this.
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