After mostly working with senior high students for the first ten years of my youth ministry experience, in the last couple of years I have found myself ministering to the younger end of the youth group spectrum. And what I have found is an important truth that I might have missed had I not had this experience. It’s simply this:
Teenagers, especially younger ones, are capable of WAY more than they are often given credit for. We “dumb it down” at our own expense.
My epiphany started when the current group of 10th grade guys I disciple were 7th graders. I realized much of what I expected was a little off. Then this year I was asked to teach about 20-30 7th graders on Sunday mornings. I was a little nervous at first, wondering if the style I like to teach (lots of interaction, lots of context, good, deep Bible study) would translate. I was pleasantly surprised. This group of kids blows me away each week with how engaged and dialed in they are.
The big kicker came this past weekend. I spoke twice at a retreat for 5th and 6th graders. We talked about worship: what it is, why we do it, and how it looks in all its forms. I didn’t pull any punches. I threw a lot at them. And they ate it up.
These experiences have led me to think about how we can be guilty of aiming too low with our students. And in our tech-savvy, information rich world, this practice continuously separates the sacred from the secular.
Here’s what I mean . . .
More and more, teenagers are being educated in ways that challenge them to be pursuers of knowledge. Educators have long figured out what the church has not: the one-way knowledge dump, aka lecture, is a cultural mismatch and a very ineffective way to teach. Every aspect of our culture puts teenagers in the drivers seat in the search for information and knowledge. And using technology, many of our schools are leveraging this. Students are challenged to learn more earlier, and much of this knowledge is self-driven.
And yet, we spoon feed, we lecture, we hold their hands . . . all because we intentionally or not, underestimate their ability to handle deep, complex information.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised in the last couple of years how willing and able teenagers are to go deep in their pursuit of spiritual growth. My challenge to you is to evaluate your process of discipleship. Are you teaching teenagers in an interactive, dynamic way? Are you challenging them with big concepts? Are you creating scenarios where they play a role in guiding the process of discovery?
If not, why not? You might be surprised what they can handle.