“FOR WE ARE GOD’S MASTERPIECE…”
—Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
I might be wrong, but I doubt that most young people walked around saying, “Look at me; I’m a masterpiece!” More teens’ lives seem to convey, “Look at me; I’m a mess.” They feel as though life lacks meaning, and they make decisions that help them fit in more than stand out. Unfortunately, I find this true of both Christian and non-Christian youth.
That was certainly the case for my own adolescent years. I was always seeking acceptance from my peers, which led to some pretty pathetic choices. Even though I grew up in a pastor’s home with very supportive parents, I didn’t understand my identity. No one ever explained my position as a son of the Most High God. So I sought significance elsewhere.
CHANGE YOUR MIND
What if young people really knew their place in the world? What if they sincerely believed that their heavenly Father owned the palace? Would they still choose to live in emotional and spiritual poverty? If they understood their status as heirs to the throne through Jesus Christ, would they make different decisions for their lives?
In my opinion and from my personal experience, the answer is yes. But I’m an idealist. I don’t only see the best case scenario; I believe that the promises of Scripture are God’s reality for this generation.
Decisions are determined by identity which is typically shaped by our early experiences in life. The words people speak to us or about us flavor our feelings of self-worth and value. And it’s time for the Church to tell young people, “You have a place and position in the cause of Jesus. You matter to his mission. Your voice has value today—not someday.”
CHANGE YOUR MODEL
In recent decades, youth work has inadvertently become about what we do for youth instead of what they do themselves. Unwittingly, we have relegated teens to the position of spectators in the Church, which is certainly not the model of Jesus who trained youth to lead as co-equals and co-laborers of his cause. He called them because of their age, passion, and potential.
I submit that the Church has a serious identity crisis today. Maybe young people in our congregations don’t know their place and position because we don’t know ours either. Perhaps we’re trying to find our own significance through the programs we plan and the presentations we polish (I have been guilty of that practice). Have we accidentally blocked youth as owners of ministry to bolster our own meaning?
That’s a hard question to ponder? It might even come across as a harsh indictment. But I’m not asking you to consider anything I haven’t wrestled with personally in 25 years of pastoral ministry. Even as I wrap-up my words, I’m wondering how you’ll receive this challenge. And I’m a little worried you’ll just write it off as a rant. But please don’t.
I do know that you believe in God’s call on this generation. You’ve given your life to equipping and empowering youth to live for Jesus Christ. You want them to embrace their role in his cause. But do the people of your church have your same perspective? How do they view teens? How do they communicate value?
CHANGE YOUR METHODS
Sadly, we do have an identity crisis in the Church today. Young people don’t know they matter to God’s plan. He has a purpose for their lives today—not someday. Here are three simple ways to engage young people in the life and work of the Church:
- GIVE THEM A VOICE
It’s as easy as listening, which begins by asking questions. Stop tell them what to do and start ask their opinion on how to do it. And not just ideas for events and activities. Let them speak into real problems they see in their world today.
- GRANT PERMISSION
Young people have dreams and desires. They want matter and make a difference, so give them freedom to attempt great things for Jesus. If they fail, be there to pick them up. Better yet, walk alongside of them—without taking over.
- GET OUT OF THE WAY
The greatest lesson we learn from Jesus’ example of mentoring is that he made room. He let his young disciples do the work of ministry. Train youth and then remove yourself from center stage. Trust him to work through young lives.
I want to encourage you to consider my book, Pray21, to help make this change in your ministry with youth. This 21-day, intergenerational prayer campaign has been used in congregations around the world to mobilize young people who know their identity in Christ. In just three weeks, God has changed the hearts of his people to embrace his call on this generation. I know it will work for you, too.Get Started Teaching Identity with Pray21