Dealing With Loneliness And Biblical Illiteracy In YTH Ministry

When we get to do a Q and A episode on  y t h o l o g y LIVE!

The veterans and the rookies can learn so much from each other. We need the wisdom of the veterans (a generalization) and the passion of the rookies (another generalization) to do YTH Ministry. Actually, I know many leaders who exhibit each of these no matter the stage of leadership they are in.

Here are two of the questions from this week's episode 10:

Question 1 - How do we handle students who are isolated and alone?

Although adolescent loneliness is an extensive problem today and much research has been conducted, it is debated as to what it exactly means for an adolescent to be lonely. The most common definition is an "unpleasant experience that occurs when a person's network of social relationships is significantly deficient in either quality or quantity” (Uruk and Demir). 

I believe that everyone in this world is searching for relationship. One of the worst things that can happen to an adolescent is having unhealthy (or a lack of) relationships. Whether it is with family, friends, or a random strangers, we need people. We need experiences with many different kinds of people each and every day. Every encounter either brings us satisfaction or emptiness.

Adolescents are especially susceptible to the highs and lows of relationships because of a lack of development. So, here are a few things to do if you see students disconnected or isolate:

  • There are a numerous amount of reasons why adolescents become lonely, and there are signs. Look for these signs - Anxiety, depression, a significant negative life change, isolation, embarrassing or humiliating situation, and poor educational performance.
  • Look to build relationship structures in the YTH Ministry - Adult relationships to students, parental relationships to students, and peer relationships with students. Each of these are vital to the community an adolescent needs.
  • An atmosphere of love and acceptance in the YTH Ministry is very attractive to teens - Hosting well, adult and peer leader involvement, and using the word 'love' often in the youth setting.
  • The YTH Leader's role in setting the culture of acceptance - If there is one thing that brings students back to the Church, it is the culture of unconditional love. Love is not something that is given unconditionally in most settings. It actually is more conditional or performance-based. AYTH Leader must model friendship and warmth in all relationships so that this culture begins from the top.

YTH Ministry must combat this pervasive adolescent issue...

"Social anxiety is the fear of social situations and the interaction with other people that can automatically bring on feelings of self-consciousness, judgment, evaluation, and criticism. Put another way, social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression” (Richards)

Question 2 - How do we get teenagers interested in the Bible?

In last months V/blog we dealt with the importance of attractional YTH Ministry. And the importance of relationship over programming. Remember, what you get them with, you have to keep them with. The latest program and event can become stale and expensive after time. Roller coasters do attract teens. But, students become familiar with these.

And besides, it is very expensive to build a new roller coaster every year to attract teens. Just ask Disney or Great America, or Cedar Point. What we need is more programming and events that are biblically based. More biblical mentoring and coaching in this generation and not more games. That will require youth leaders to have a plan for the place of scripture in the youth ministry setting.

We need more spiritual formation or discipleship. Here is a working definition of discipleship.

Discipleship is theology in relationship. And discipleship is relationship in theology. Theology is exciting because it is 'the study of God'. What could be more exciting than the study of God? The study of God in relationship with another person.

Listen, it is the role of YTH Leaders to define God to a generation. Because to know God is to serve Him. The only reason teenagers do not serve God is because they do not know God. To know God is to serve Him. That is as clear a definition of discipleship as we can get. We are introducing students to the knowledge of God as the fuel to a relationship with God!

So, try these practical things to get teens interested in the Bible and the study of God:

  • Make sure that the Bible is read from and used in the YTH setting
  • Encourage the students to bring their bible, or, to at least have the app on their phone
  • Give the message or teaching/preaching of the word a significant place in the YTH setting. You cannot model to students that the Bible is important if it doesn't have a significant place in the YTH setting.
  • Create small accountability groups with bible studies and peer to peer discussion - create an invitation only monthly group for bible study with the YP
  • Increase your conversations with students to include their spiritual life and not always about school, family, sports, current affairs, etc. If we never have spiritual theological convos with our students they can think that the Bible is only for Church services. 

As a YTH Leader we must model the answer to these important questions. Both spiritual discipline and faith formation, and, dealing with loneliness and isolation in students must be dealt with at the leader level. Address these issues with students in your public corporate programming and personal life relationships with teens.

Hopefully this helps you - and please share these V/blogs with a friend!

Jeff Grenell