Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People

This is post three in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading part two about Keychain Leadership. 


“Young people these days…”

It’s the classic derogatory quote used to describe the actions or opinions of a ‘young person’. It’s usually said by someone one or more generations older than said young person and highlights the generational gap. Unfortunately it is within the church where this phrase and those of its kind are repeated often.

youngpersonthesedays.jpeg

In churches, where loving God and loving others is promoted heavily, young people often get the rough end of the stick when it comes attitudes and how people view them. Often things are said in a way that isn’t meant to be demeaning or offensive but they end up putting the ‘young people’ in their place because of what is or isn’t expected of them. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.

Cleaning up after youth group

It’s often expected that the cleanliness of the church is going to be lowered somehow because the youth group had an event. Yet, for those of us in youth leadership know that part of being a healthy youth ministry includes cleaning up well for others and getting those who came to the event to help. It instills values, makes them part of the community, and helps the wider church.

Young people aren’t committed these days

It’s either they aren’t committed or not committed enough. And in some cases this may well be true but there is a big difference in understanding what ‘committed’ means. I don’t believe I know too many young people who aren’t committed to things. It’s what they’re committed to and why.

Currently churches need to deal with this in regard to church membership. Church membership is something that young people don’t seem to be taking up or ‘committing’ themselves too. Yet churches (1) don’t really push church membership in a big way and (2) the reasons why a young person should join the church in a formal way is never well articulated. Many are already serving in some capacity, whether it be on the music team, youth leading or running the children’s ministry. These are significant positions and not much will change if they change their membership status. But if churches outlined their vision of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, be part of the movement of God through that local church, and play a significant role in shaping that vision themselves then perhaps church membership might be something more young people would sign up for.

All this is to say that there can be a fair bit of pressure for ‘young people’ in the church. There is the realisation that not everyone sticks around and as that number has dwindled significantly in the last 20-30 years churches are grasping on to those they have.

The question Growing Young deals with is not how to hang on to those who may be leaving but what is keeping them at the church in the first place? This is the thesis of the book and this chapter highlights how it is on the older generations to be empathetic to young people and the pressures they face.

One of the main helps is realising the three main questions young people are dealing with.

  • Who am I? (Identity)
  • Where do I fit? (Belonging)
  • What difference do I make? (Purpose)

Here we have three crucial questions all people need to answer for themselves but are of particular importance to teenagers and students as they mature in the game of life.

Due to the changes in life and culture in the past 20-40 years the actual length of being a young person has extended. No longer are the markers of adulthood achieved in the early 20s. Those markers of adulthood – being a spouse, having a family, completing school and/or university, working in a steady job, and being financially independent – are all occurring five years later than they used to. As the authors suggest, “This means there is no hurry to set down permanent roots and there is the possibility of rejecting one of these markers totally. Today’s emerging adults seem to be explorers by nature.”

It is also important to note that the opportunity to explore and discover various parts of their personality occurs much later too. Due to the increased pressure from schooling and general family life there is little time to explore a variety of hobbies, sports, instruments and other creative pursuits. More often than not young people are required to choose what they would like to specialise in much earlier than previous generations had to. As a result when this generation hits their 20s they begin travelling, changing university courses, and taking gap years in order to explore their passions, gifts, abilities, and grow in their skills. Something that was restricted while in their teenage years.

And so Growing Young suggests that “Parents don’t often realise the constant heat felt by adolescents, increasing the pressure for them to figure out who they are and what important to them.” A perfect example of the pressure emerging adults face is this article recently published on Relevant. It’s great to learn stuff but there is the underlining pressure of having to be the best in their chosen field, be the most productive person they know, and someone who has sorted their life out by the time they’re 25.

Growing Young also reminds us that this pressure is depicted this way:

“On the one hand, today’s young people are touted as justice crusaders devoted to helping those who are poor or marginalised. They are portrayed as selfless revolutionaries ready to change the world one dollar and social media post at a time. On the other hand, the very same cohort of young people is depicted as egotistical and entitled, motivated primarily by whatever best serves their pursuit of their own happiness.”

There’s a lot of challenging things here for the church and society. Thankfully Growing Young also provides some answers.

One of the main ways churches can help young people is to provide people who are more mature in their faith and life to walk alongside them.

I think this is of major importance.

Those who are older can make such a great contribution to the youth and young adult ministries of their church by simply being a person who walks with a young person. This is commonly called mentoring, coaching, discipling, and whatever other name you can think of that describes this kind of care. To have an open adult who is willing to meet, ask questions that make the young person think through their faith and life for themselves, and be a support when it’s needed, is the perfect person for youth and young adult ministry.

Of those three questions above, Growing Young also suggests:

“We think that young people’s deepest questions about identity are best answered by God’s grace. We are convinced that teenagers’ and emerging adults’ need to belong is ultimately met through the unconditional love of community. We believe their hunger for purpose is satisfied by being involved in God’s mission in the world.”

Rightfully so and very well put.

It is now on churches, with special reference to Youth Pastors and Young Adult Pastors, to enable and invite a community of people, both young and old, to show God’s grace, provide connectedness and relationship, and to lead them into the places where God is at work, helping them understand their place in God’s mission.

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