Seth Godin did a study about marketing to Generation Y—today’s teens. The study showed this generation is very selective about who they listen to and that they want to know why before they obey.
For youth workers, it is vitally important to understand how to reach this generation. Rigid rules and regulations may produce a cookie-cutter teenager, but more often than not, rules alone will not make a lasting difference in that teen’s life. Here are six qualities that are vital for any youth worker who genuinely wants to make a difference in the lives of their teens:
Teens want to know that we are the real deal. Being authentic means that you practice what you preach, that your actions match your message. As we are trying to compel teens to live for the Lord, we must remember that they won’t personally take their walk with the Lord more seriously than we take ours.
As you strive to be authentic, look at the perfect example—Jesus Christ. He was the opposite of the Pharisees—the hypocrites of the day. He carried out His personal ministry in a genuine, authentic way. The Pharisees avoided heart issues at all costs, and they were okay with surface ministry. Jesus wasn’t. His ministry was aimed at heart issues. His authenticity made a difference.
There are many things in youth ministry that are great, but they should not be the goal. It’s great to play games and have fun—youth activities should be enjoyable! But teens also need to see the importance of preaching. Include both games and preaching—and make it fun! Proverbs 11:1 says, “A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.”
Balance comes from the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Bible does not show how much time a youth group should spend playing games and how much time they should spend listening to preaching. But the Bible does say in James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
To make a difference in our teens’ lives, we need to build relationships with them. Learn their names. Find out their interests. Develop connections with them. Until you connect with them, they will not know that you care for them. One way you can do this is spend time with them outside of the church. Go to your teens’ ball games. Go to their school plays. Spending time with them shows you’re not too busy for them.
Do things intentionally—based on the needs of the teens. It’s not enough to just become close relationally. Have a purpose for connecting with the teens. Let them know that you want to help them. They should know that you are there for them.
My natural tendency is to become complacent. If we allow complacency to settle in teen ministry, we could lose the next generation. We need to be consistent in our walk with the Lord and in our ministry. Consistency isn’t easy. We get tired and weary. But at our lowest points, we need to recognize our weaknesses and find our strength in Jesus Christ. He will help us along the way, and He will honor us for being faithful.
Your personal growth greatly affects your personal ministry. Many teens have drifted away from the Lord after a youth worker they respected chose a life of sin. Your walk with the Lord affects more than just you. Youth workers who make a difference need to be growing spiritually every day. Teens are influenced either negatively or positively by your personal growth.
As we strive to have these qualities, remember to find your strength in Christ alone. We can decide to have all of these characteristics, but until we allow Jesus Christ to rule supremely in our lives, we will fall short of His standard. To be a youth worker who makes a difference, follow Christ supremely. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”