Growing up today as a teenager is challenging to say the least. On top of social pressure, which has always been around, we have social media, which didn’t exist when I was growing up. Some of the issues that confront youth today include anorexia, bullying, cyber addiction, depression, legalized marijuana, sexting, sex trafficking, fake news, vaping, drinking, and smoking, to name a few.
What is a parent to do? What can the church do?
Before we address this, let me say that I’ve learned this much: The most important thing we can do for our kids is to let them know we are safe to talk with—about anything! Instead of acting like the behavioral police of their world, or trying to be an ever-present moral authority, we need to be caring confidants who understand how to be active listeners and humble counselors. What parent wouldn’t want this kind of relationship with their kids?
I recently spoke with my friend Ron Whitehead, Youth and Young Adult Ministries director for the Lake Union Conference, about ministering to youth today. He and his colleague, Nestor Osman, Center for Youth Evangelism (CYE) special projects manager, are providing resources and ideas for ministry to new generations.
"Even though the list of challenges youth face is big, the solutions may be simpler than we have expected (although not easy),” said Osman.
“Every generation, as you notice, is getting more and more isolated under the [false] sense of having thousands of friends on social media. So that is the first point: community,” Osman explained. "Having a supportive, caring community is huge! If our kids are not linked in some way with a network of adults, teachers, fellow students, and friends who can provide positive feedback and support on an ongoing basis, it can be devastating when they have a crisis."
“A friendly community is essential for young people, not to judge them, but to honestly support them in these challenges. Parents need to be part of this community, and hopefully the local church also. Isolated programs can help, but what young people need is mentorship based on an honest relationship. If they can’t find it at home or church, they will go somewhere else. … When I say ‘honestly,’ I’m referring to authenticity. New generations are experts at challenging traditions that we didn’t challenge in the past. And the notion that ‘we don’t make mistakes, we are Christians,’ that is projected by some church leaders and parents, is not helping. In other words, it is not helpful when we demand from new generations things that they can’t see in older generations.”
Osman added, “Finally, new generations expect a clear purpose. ‘Why should I be part of the church?’ In some churches and families, the most common phrase is, ‘Don’t do it,’ instead of providing kids with ideas and real projects beyond prayers and sermons. If it’s not there, new generations typically will not criticize the lack of community, authenticity, and purpose. Instead, they’ll just walk away.”
Resources You Can Use
Barna Group is probably the main authority when trying to understand new generations, even if Barna doesn’t provide a “what-to-do list.”
A book I would recommend to understand the change needed is Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.
Some programs with principles and ideas for the church include:
- Church of Refuge (COR) — (Adventist; a program from CYE)
- Intergeneration Church of Refuge (iCOR) —(Adventist; the European version of COR)
- Growing Young — non-Adventist (an approach used by the NAD)
A place with articles related to mental health is available on the NAD website.
Every church and every family is a different world, but some following some basic principles will increase the chances for young people to stay at the church and may prevent them from getting in trouble in the first place. I believe most of the problems kids encounter today stem from the disconnect that often exists between older and new generations, the lack of an authentic, friendly community, with a clear purpose.
- AdventSource — For resources and ideas
- Center for Youth Evangelism — 411 youth ministry newsletter. To sign up.
- North American Division Youth Ministries — For resources and ideas
- North American Division Family Life Ministries — For resources and ideas
— Rich DuBose writes from the Pacific Union Conference, Westlake Village, California. This article was originally presented by Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services in collaboration with the Center for Creative Ministries.