They told me in Bible College to be prepared to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice.
On Sunday, Dec 28, I received a phone call at 9:30 am. The Iowa Youth Board had just learned that their speaker would not be able to come for Winter Retreat. The event was scheduled to start at 1:30 that afternoon and they asked if I would come speak. As soon as Morning Worship ended I went home, picked up my Bible, a notebook of sermon notes, my laptop, and packed some clothes.
I did a lot of praying, some preaching, and tried to avoid dying – not unusual for a youth retreat!
It was a privilege to share the Word and I enjoyed the interaction but I also learned a great deal. Here are some of the things I learned and re-learned:
1. The power of ME is growing progressively stronger. On two separate occasions the retreat leaders attempted a game which required the teens to work in groups or teams but individualism took over. The power of ME, looking out for Number One, is intense and makes working in community difficult. The church will have to find creative and effective methods for helping teens and young adults understand the Lordship of Christ as well as the importance of being a member of the Household of Faith. The world calls us to be independent and self-sufficient. Christ calls us to be living sacrifices; to take up our cross and follow Him.
2. Verbal communication is becoming more challenging. The culture our youth live in is saturated with captivating images, mesmerizing sounds, and streaming text messages. In order to effectively communicate the Gospel – the whole counsel of God – we must learn to be innovative in using images, sound and text while still remaining theologically correct. Youth leaders and Pastors need to cultivate the art of telling thought-provoking stories and asking penetrating questions.
3. A teen’s world is small. Youth exist in a relatively small sphere of friends. They might have scores of acquaintances, but the group of trusted friends is smaller than ever. This is exacerbated by youth’s struggle with self-esteem and self-acceptance and is a greater problem for gals than it is for guys. When we ask teens to invite friends to youth group or welcome the visitors who do show up, we are pushing them way beyond their comfort zone. Introducing new youth one-on-one and depending on adults to welcome newcomers may help alleviate some discomfort, but trust and respect are achieved only through a great deal of patience.
4. Blended families are the new normal. Just a few years ago, the majority of teens involved in church activities and youth group were from stable families with a Mom, Dad, and siblings. A family that ate together most evenings and went to ballgames, movies and grandma’s house. Now there is a new normal made up of single parent homes, non-custodial parents, grandparents as guardians, and weekends with “the other dad,” step-brothers & sisters. An informal, non-scientific survey of the teens at this retreat indicated 70% came from a blended or single parent family.
The impact of this “new normal” is staggering. Almost every youth program I know of is designed with the assumption that the youth are coming from a stable, home with two birth parents. Recently I had a discussion with a church leader who was incensed that the youth leader could get 40 high school students out on a Wednesday night but only 6 showed up for Sunday morning. His conclusion? Too much entertainment on Wednesday night. However, if he were to consider the possibility that 70% of the students are from split and blended families he might realize that many of them are with the “other” parent on the weekends.
Furthermore, what does this mean about our young adult, middle-age, and even retirement age ministries? Do we take into consideration the shocking reality that families have changed? We better wake up to this!
As a final observation: Youth have the most sensitive social “antenna” imaginable. If they sense that an adult doesn’t like anything about their appearance, or if they have ever heard even a hint of condemnation about their choice of music, or if an adult has ever “disrespected” them, they will avoid that person like the plague! Adults, no matter what your age, youth are not only our future, they are the church today. Be careful of your attitude.
I say this every year to the staff at Tri State Camp: What you say is important but what you do SCREAMS! Be Prepared!