Three Students I’m Always Speaking To
I’ve found in my time in youth ministry that a youth worker must have a clear picture of his or her audience when giving a talk or teaching a Bible study. It’s of great benefit to personalize and individualize your audience as much as possible. I am never simply speaking to a generic group of teenagers. When I prepare for a talk, I have three types of individuals in mind, but those individuals have a name. I remember their story and think about their day-to-day life. While it’s challenging to speak to a cross-section of people, I always try to address and engage these three teenagers in the crowd:
1) Belle (the Seeker)
Belle may come to church because her parents make her or because she genuinely is curious. She may either be hostile toward religion, or she may be a quiet skeptic inside.
In every talk, I try to acknowledge the non-believer or the students who are just not sure what they believe about God. Understanding that this person is in the room (they are whether you realize or not), I try to avoid a condescending or combative tone when discussing the beliefs of the secular world.
Also, I make an attempt in every single talk (and ask our volunteers to do the same) to use this phrase: “If you’re not a Christian, one thing to consider is ….” I then try to fairly hypothesize how they may be reacting to the Christian message that I have offered. For example, in a talk about sexual abstinence, I may say, “If you’re not a Christian, you may be thinking that Christianity is a total buzz-kill due to its more conservative morality on sexual behavior. One thing I would offer, though, is ….”
My hope with these statements is to let non-believers know that they are welcome and included. I’m also trying to communicate to kids that there is safety in our place for people with doubts. I want the seeker in the audience to feel a sense of belonging, even if they have not yet put their faith in Christ.
2) Betty (the Sufferer)
Behind the closed doors of her heart, Betty’s life is a living hell. Adults mistreated her as a child, but she never has told anyone. Betty lives with a deep sense of self-loathing and depression. She wonders if life is worth living. She contemplates suicide most months. Nobody can see it but she cuts herself from time to time. When her parents are away, she drinks until she passes out at home alone.
There is always a Betty in the room. In fact, everyone is a Betty to varying degrees. I once said to my 70 year-old mentor, “I think most people are about a step and a half away from suicide when they slow down, sober up, and reflect on life.” He said, “No, it’s more like a half step.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, 157,000 young people in the United States attempt suicide every year. Suicide constitutes the third leading cause of death among teenagers.
In every talk, I feel a deep responsibility to offer hope to the person who is suffering. I want them to know that the Lord sees them and empathizes with their pain. I want them to know that God redeems all things and can bring them out of darkness. As the church, we have the corner on the hope market. If depressed students do not hear hope from us, then where will they hear it?
3) Bobby (The Saint)
When Bobby was in the sixth grade, he had a powerful conversion experience. At an early age, he felt a hunger to know Jesus and to live for His kingdom. He comes to church because he likes it. Bobby feels convicted about his sin and wants to be transformed. While his understanding of it is limited, he wants to share the Gospel with his friends at school and maybe teach a Bible study in a couple of years. Bobby is a saint, not because of his actions, but because of the righteousness imputed on him through Christ.
Bobby represents the kid who wants to grow in his or her faith. Every youth pastor has a few students who want to go deeper in their knowledge of Scripture and theology. They want to be challenged to repent. They think about ministering to people in their life and desire equipping.
While I always want to serve to the non-Christian and the sufferer, I also feel a need to feed the hungry student. That student needs deep, sophisticated teaching. They need to be treated like an emerging adult. They cannot be left frustrated and bored. It can be challenging to engage both the seeker and the saint, but it certainly is possible.