The Five Things I've Learned... Students

April 30, 2010

Five Things I Have Learned… Students

I have learned a few practical things about youth ministry in the last twenty something years. Some things I am still in the process of learning. This article is a slightly different flavor than my other articles on the subject. This blog is taking a more philosophical approach.

Given the ongoing discussions about how post-modern society has changed student ministry, I wonder, if students have actually changed that much or if their environments have. I also wonder if they are truly more sophisticated than they were 15 years ago or simply more jaded to the concept of Christ.

Throughout the youth ministry world the discussion rages about what we need to do next in order to communicate God’s love to students. Before we take a look at students today, I want to tell you about the basic truths that keep me at this pursuit.

  1. God has always claimed that He is the one responsible for communicating His message through us. That message is not dependent on our skill. Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The word “demonstrates” can be translated a number of ways. “Communicated,” “Placed and held together in it’s proper place,” and “Strengthened”. In the context, “demonstrated” seems a little weak. I am a firm believer that God desires to proclaim himself everywhere and to everyone.

  1. Human nature still needs and desires a living God. Philosphy and culture cannot change that. Acts 17:24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

These two truths give us hope and a promise. So Youth workers take heart. Our calling is still intact! Now onto some things that I’ve discovered over the years.

  1. The major concerns of students have not changed. There are merely different shadows on the concern. In other words, most kids, over the last 30 years are still more concerned over their parents marriage than they are with world peace. They are still overly stressed because they have a zit on the night of a big date. Kids are concerned about their messed up friends far more than they are video game scores.

  2. The social networking has changed the rules regarding interpersonal communication. Kids are in constant text and facebook connection mode. Mobile phones are used as a tether to their social groups. The problems, however, are that students now have lost the ability to read facial expression. They have become immersed in a safe environment where the slightest critique can be shrugged off with a simple, lol. It is rude to call on a cell phone in our current college world, but okay to text while standing in a crowd of real people.

  3. Fear rules the day. New experiences are not what adolescence are all about anymore. Kids will pass on a day of whirlyball (basketball with whiffleball scoops played in bumper cars) because they have never played it before. Anything without a personal history is scary, and an opportunity for embarrassment and failure.

  4. The breakdown of (in our case, rural) family, has led to kids with little or no emotional tank to draw from in the event of crisis or rejection. Weak churches do not help either. Whereas the average kid 20 years ago had at least 3 positive mentoring touches in their lives, like pastors, parents, siblings, teachers, bosses etc… They now have to make due with one. Many times that solice is found in a co-dependent boyfriend/girlfriend.

  5. Students have not changed as much as the career of Youth Minister has. I have observed that the average age of youth workers is increasing, the average age of students has not. We hate to admit it, but there may be an obvious gap here. Most of my older youth pastor friends are constantly trying to go deeper with their groups. By deeper I mean, more mature. The rub comes in the light of students that research has clearly demonstrated, are not more mature than they were twenty years ago. As a youth pastor, I have to constantly remind myself to carry the teenage burdens of zits, breakups, bad parents and stupid life choices. That is meaningful baggage to a fifteen year old.

My job is less trying to change to youth culture and more helping kids mature to desire Christ. That’s rich stuff!

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