The responsibility of YTH Leaders today is incredibly important. To the sustainability of the Church and our society. It doesn't replace the family, but, YTH Leaders are critical to the development of teens.
This is the world teenagers are growing up in:
- 64% of teens lose sleep because they are too busy
- 77% of students feel physical, mental, or verbal abuse in high school
- The third leading cause of death between the ages of 15-24 is suicide
- 1 in 3 girls is abused by a boyfriend, 1 in every 200 teens is doing self-harm, and almost 16 million students live in a home where a parent is physically abused
- And only 30% of Christian teens can name half of the 10 Commandments
*mybrokenpalace.com and barna.com
Our Broken World
Looking at those stats reminds me of the work we have to do amongst the teenagers of our nation. Millennials and Gen Z (the young adults and teens) might be drawn to things spiritual, but with a vastly different starting point from previous generations. There is a more liberal and inclusive truth platform that has been the default for religion in our culture.
Theology is elementary to fixing spiritually broken teens. The study of God!
The Bible and Christianity are not the only message when it comes to religion in America. And it shows: The percentage of Gen Z that identifies as atheist is double that of the U.S. adult population.
We live in a broken world. Most of us are broken in some way. And yet, we still live in a palace. God has created each of us in His image. And what we do with our lives will either bring praise to Him and the world around us, or, detract from the beauty that each of us has been created with.
So, how do we approach spiritual formation with young people today? Here are several practical ways to shape a broken generation spiritually:
1. You can't be Christian without the definition
This is one of the most important lessons I share with young people. The SCRIPTURES are far more important than the CULTURE. To know Christ is to understand the bible. Jesus is revealed in the Word. John 1 lays this out beautifully.
We have to be careful in YTH Ministry of what our emphasis is going to be. Understanding culture doesn't make our students spiritual. It makes them relevant. But, understanding scripture makes them spiritual. And in turn, not just relevant (or understanding of culture), but relative (relational to culture).
Psalm 119 speaks of the importance of the Word to keep students from stumbling. The entire chapter is about the commandments and precepts and truth and statutes. Theology is our constitution as believers. If our students are not being taught the Word, they will remain broken. If they are not given the theology of God, they will remain broken.
2. The corporate YTH Service can be a critical shaper of teenagers spiritual formation
Let me talk about one of my favorite healthy YTH Ministry models. It is the one place we have the whole attention of the leaders and students. The one corporate setting where we can communicate to everyone at the same time. Where the Holy Spirit can move in the entire YTH Ministry at the same time.
It is the value of a well-planned YTH Service.
I hear the thoughts coming from some of my readers already: 'Youth Ministry is relational', 'I do small groups', and 'teens have Sundays to be in service'. Or, maybe a YTH Leader has been asked by a Lead Pastor to develop young people a certain way, or you haven't been trained in good homiletical practices, or you feel that you lack the communication skills to effectively reach teens, or you do not have a hip YTH room and equipment, or you only have 12 students.
There are a variety of ways that a presence-based YTH service can transform students and shape their spiritual formation. Whether it is atmosphere, preaching/teaching, prayer, peer-interaction in a spiritual moment, presence-based gifts operating through others, or powerful worship and interaction with God, never under-estimate a suddenly with God.
When students watch other peers and other adults interacting with the teaching or preaching of the Word, involving themselves in worship, and praying for each other, it is an irreplaceable moment. I'm sure you know that most Sunday morning approaches are not geared toward the Millennial and younger teens. So an effective YTH service is a critical model in YTH Ministry.
3. The mentoring relationship is a proximal assurance of spiritual formation in teens
This is one of the growing strategies for personal growth. At every level and sector of society 'life coaches' or 'executive mentors' has become en vogue. The fastest-growing Master's level program in the country is the Coaching/Executive Organizational degree.
Mentoring (coaching, discipleship) is relational. Although these terms are somewhat different in execution they are similar in approach. My definition of Mentoring is 'the intimate accountability of a teacher and a pupil.' It is 'the familial editing of a father (mother) to a son (daughter).' It is 'the close editing setting where lessons are taught and actions are corrected.'
Mentoring is not small groups. That will be dealt with last here. For brevity of space, think of mentoring this way - it is dangerous. It is dangerous because it is intimate. It is painful because it is proximal. And it is hated because it is love.
Here are some key success factors for mentoring:
-A personal mission statement is key to the mentor to mentoring in your sweet spot. You do not want to be in relationship with people who do not have the same passion and interest as you do. There is a reason I do not mentor business majors. And why I mentor YTH Ministry majors.
-Communication of the entire process will allow for definition of the objectives and defining the win for both of you. Use this communication periodically to do mid-course correction and make sure you are accomplishing what you want to.
-You should be pursued by the Protégé/Mentee and not have to worry about the interest of the person you are meeting with. If they do not show commitment, then mentoring is not for them. I do not chase my proteges'/mentees. If there is no hunger, the process will not work. There must be a sense of loyalty and interest from the mentee.
-Know when to be finished with a mentoring relationship so it doesn’t produce co-dependency. I have rarely gone more than 6 months on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. You can accomplish plenty of growth in this amount of time. Every relationship can fall into a time of impasse if we are not careful.
-Be creative with the meetings to gain an edge. The place, time, setting, and timeframe are all very important to the success of the relationship. Mix it up often to shock the meetings. A creative place to meet (lunch - ball game - mall – airport), cancel a meeting short-term, change the topic, bring in another mentor, or even watch a video or vlog together.
4. Creating YTH connect small groups speeds spiritual formation in teens
The learning that begins in a small group setting with peers and adults is one of the key biblical models of discipleship for centuries. It is the rabbinical model at a little larger level. What the mentoring relationship can do in a personal way, the small group connect can do in a peer to peer way.
The value of this setting is a key YTH Leader. Clarity, organization, and leadership can bring great conversation and results. It is the in-between setting of the YTH service and a mentoring relationship. This setting allows for the inter-action of various ideas and backgrounds that add to the spiritual formation of the attenders. Something a YTH service and mentoring cannot do.
Organize these connects in several ways:
LOCATION - GRADE - GENDER - TOPIC - BASICS - DISCIPLINES
The spiritual formation in teens explodes in these settings.
Be careful of having too much of one model in YTH Ministry. It takes a variety of approaches to shape young people spiritually. With just a little effort and creativity you can see purposeful spiritual growth in the millennial and the Gen Z sect. It is vital for the sustainability of the Church in our society.