Friday, April 30, 2010

thoughts on high schoolers and jesus.

An update:

This post was a hard one to write. It's hard to admit that your church has a high number of divorced families, and that the youth group you grew up in was less than perfect.

But it's the truth.

That's the beauty of the church, isn't it? That we're all so very imperfect, but that we have grace to cover us?

I stepped on some toes with this particular post, and I'm sorry for that. What I write on this blog is my own personal opinion, and when it comes to matters that are spiritual in nature, I think our first impulse is to get defensive. I'm guilty too.

I stand by this post, but with one caveat: I don't know the state of the heart. These kids could be growing by leaps and bounds. Each class may be dragging them deeper and deeper in love with the Savior. We don't know, and we may never know.

The same is true of their parents.

And the same is true of the people I grew up with.

I honestly don't know who still goes to church, who reads their Bible every day, who prays every day, who is in love with Jesus. The "statistic" I gave in this post is true: To my knowledge, only four or five people of the 11 or 12 I graduated with still attend church. But I don't know what they do on their own time. I don't know the state of their spiritual walk, just like they probably don't know the state of mine.

The point of that blog post was to show that going to church isn't where your spiritual walk ends; it's where it begins.

I want these kids to go deeper, just like I want to always be going deeper.
I hope that explains things a little.

My intention is never to hurt people with the words I place here. I hope that much is evident.

I post here what is on my heart, and what has been on my heart lately has been those kids.

Those 15 faces we see each Wednesday, the faces we're trying to point to the Savior.

That's the point of this post. To ask for help in how to reach these kids, to get feedback on whether or not I'm the only one who feels this way.


Original post:

For a while there, pre-marriage, Jordan and I were teaching the “little ones” (K-5th graders) at our church. After a few months, we tackled the middle schoolers. It was a daunting task, but you know what? Those kids love us now, and we love them.

So, naturally, it was time to move on.

Now, every Wednesday night, we teach the high schoolers, and I’ve got to tell you: It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Keep in mind, I’m a Sunday-school-teaching pro. When I was a high school student myself (not so many moons ago), I often co-taught Bible classes with another woman at my church. I’ve been helping my mom since I don’t know when. I taught the middle school girls for two years. At Faulkner, I took a “Teaching the Bible to Children” class (yes, really). I am completely qualified.

But these high schoolers are a whole different ball game.

Out of the 15 teenagers we have in class on a regular basis, eight come from broken homes.

Of the seven whose parents are together, one has a father who doesn’t come to church.

One has a father with cancer.

And those are just the problems we know about.

There are other things that have slowly come out into the open.

Add these deep-seeded issues to a teen’s typical hang-ups (peer pressure, attitude problems, dating drama), and you have our Wednesday night class in a nutshell.

“Teaching the Bible to Children” didn’t prepare me for this.

The other thing it didn’t prepare me for was the hardened hearts.

In our middle school class, the statistics were not much different. Of the regulars, nine had “together” parents; four had parents who were divorced and remarried. Of the “together” parents, three children had fathers who don’t attend church and who travel extensively outside the home.

But their hearts were different. Malleable, eager to learn.

Maybe it’s the age difference.

The middle schoolers had their issues. But after one “come to Jesus” meeting, their behavior improved. They respected us. They cared about what we were saying. They valued the lessons we were teaching.

With these high schoolers, we often get blank stares (even after a couple of “come to Jesus” moments).

They don’t want to sing. Don’t want to discuss. Don’t want to write. Don’t want to use their Bibles (most of them don’t bring one). Don’t want to pray.

Keep in mind that despite their broken homes, most of these kids come from upper-middle class backgrounds, and the ones from families who are together sadly aren’t much better off than the ones from single-parent homes.

Please don’t misunderstand: Jordan and I knew that this class would be a challenge.

Middle schoolers and high schoolers are, by their very nature, a different breed. Middle schoolers are willing to be a little more goofy, a little more themselves.

High schoolers, not so much.

The girls look to each other for acceptance and permission.

The guys look to the “cool kid” and base their own answers and behavior on him.

They all look to their parents, despite their imperfections. (I don’t even think some parents know the massive influence they have on their own children.)

I think what’s saddest of all, though, is that for so long, these kids have happily accepted mediocre.

Mediocre Bible class teachers, mediocre parents, mediocre lifestyles.

They don’t know what excellent looks like.

They don’t know what a good Bible class is.

They don’t know what a good home is.

They don’t know what a good marriage is.

They don’t know what a good dating relationship is.

Most of all, they don’t know what a good relationship with Jesus is.

And we’re struggling to make them want it.

After all, how do you convince someone to want something they’ve never seen?

To want something they’ve never experienced?

To want something they’ve never been offered?

Of those 15 teens, I’d guess about 14 are baptized. The majority have been going to church their entire lives.

I could count on one hand the number of them who have fallen in love with Jesus.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being too hard on them. After all, they're teenagers, and the teens in my own youth group weren’t much better. In fact, in some ways, the kids I grew up with were worse.

But that’s the problem.

That’s why I want better.

Because I look at the kids I graduated from youth group with, and you know what I see?

Maybe four who still go to church. Of those four, I don’t even know who’s actually living for Christ, who loves the Father with all their heart, soul, and mind. Because I’m convinced that being a Christ-follower means more than a Sunday morning service.

I want better for this group.

I want excellent.

I want more than filling in pews, two-second prayers before meals, and mouthing the words to songs they don’t understand.

I want relationship.

Is that too much? Am I asking too much, expecting too much?

Because, I admit. I’m no youth minister.

Maybe silly games and fun retreats are what will make these kids fall in love with their Savior.

But what if they don’t?

What if instead, they grow up and become alcoholics? What if they go to prison or struggle with depression or find solace in sexual relationships instead of in God’s grace?

Or, perhaps even worse, what if they grow up and become like their parents?

Broken on the inside, painted smiles on the outside.

Sitting in the same pew.

Singing the same songs.

Quoting the same Scripture.

Going through the same motions.

All without ever once encountering the life-changing love of Christ.

I just can’t let that happen.

So even though Wednesday nights are harder than we thought, Jordan and I are determined.

We want to give them excellent.

To show them what they could be, what we all can be.

We want to challenge them to do more, to be more, to love more, to expect more out of Christianity than what they’ve been taught.

We want them to become believers who ask questions, who search Scriptures, who seek God’s face.

We want more.

So we’re going to keep trusting and keep teaching.

Because you just never know what God might do.


HKMarcum said...

Hang in there. You and your husband's actions can have a great affect on these kids.
I went to church all my life, and no one ever showed me how to actually live for Christ by example until I was in my *twenties*.
Will be praying for you guys!

Rachel Apple said...

that was REALLY good. I can totally relate. thanks so much for sharing; and heck no, you wanting excellent,& a relationship is NOT too much. it's what we ALL should desire and fight for.

chet said...

I needed this. I'm excited to test the waters of another church this summer. I know these problems exist everywhere but I hope to learn from a different leadership how to curb the apathy.

I lubs you!

jenna said...

Annie, I completely understand.

The line of this that got me the most - "Or, perhaps even worse, what if they grow up and become like their parents?"

I strongly believe that God has some big things in store for this generation, and I know He will use us in their lives for His purposes. He is good. They will see it.

La Bella Donna said...

I think part of it is not what they haven't seen but what they have seen. If our parents are models for how God loves us and they see mediocrity as acceptable how can they not expect the same from the Father?

If every relationship they have ever had has bailed on them in one way or another, how can you expect them to want one more let down?

It isn't what they don't know; it's what they do know. They know disappointment and frustration and pain. If they think a relationship with the Father is even remotely similar to any other relationship they've ever had then it would be a very smart self-preservation instint to steer clear of what you're offering. To them it might as well be snake oil or tonic.

What you might want to just try for this semester is that even in just the smallest increments, there life is better with Jesus than without him. You talk about wanting them to fall in love; approach it like a dating relationship. There's flirting and crushes then some casual dating followed by love, then followed by commitment and adoration. This semester flirting and crushes may be as far as you get.

Kari said...

This reminds me of something my friend Brandi wrote. She is the youth pastor at her church and was recently ordained.

Sabrina said...

As a teacher in the public school system I feel your pain. It is even more hurtful though when we are talking about our little brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sometimes I want to shout to the top of my lungs. WAKE UP PARENTS. SEE WHAT YOU ARE DOING TO YOUR KIDS! However, I just continue to work with the kids. Showing them through myself and my story, and most importantly God's word that there is SO much better out there.

I will pray for the families, that is where the revolution needs to take place. I will also pray that we stop the cycle and really wait to be ready to start our own families who will hopefully abide and dwell in God's will.

rebekah said...

Wishing I had a mentor who had genuine passion for Christ. High school was when I consciously walked away from God.

mom said...

Reading this blog made me sad. Reading all of the comments along with a book I am reading, made me realize just how much of a universal problem this is.

Before you were ever a thought to daddy and I, we prayed diligently about our future children. We prayed for them to have a walk with Christ that was true and concrete so that they would always have that passionate relationship with the One who made everything possible. To understand that there was something bigger (God). We wanted them to get it when they were young!

My point is not that daddy and I were (or are) the perfect parents (we all know that most of my children's memories of me are the mistakes I've made and the jokes it has provided for family fun); but that we really took seriously the blessing from God it would be to have children and be allowed to be stewards of them for 18 years.

Our family marched to the beat of a different drum, you know I've never been a conformist. I'm sad for all of the parents who are missing the boat of the most precious gift God can give them.....children; and the responsibility that entails.

Like it or not,childen are a reflection of their parents/homes. Sadly more often than not, a product of misplaced priorites. Will they choose to be a victim or rise triumphant?

Robyn said...

I think teenagers mostly want to be understood. Especially by the adults who "impose rules" on them. My suggestion would be to ask them what would make class more interesting and something they enjoy being a part of. Give them some ownership in it. You certainly don't have to take all of their suggestions, but find at least one that you could incorporate. Even something small like adding coffee to the class, if it's what they want, gives them some ownership and helps them feel understood, which opens a door. And, if the suggestion lends itself to teaching responsibility as well, then take that advantage. Using the coffee thing again . . . you provide coffee and supplies, they provide the labor of making it and cleaning it up. I'm certainly not an expert on teens and how to guide them through a messy life to a radiant love relationship with Christ, but I figure it never hurts to first meet one of their primary needs.

Aunti M said...

I hope I wasn't the anon one - I'm just plain blog illiterate and can't seem to get the identify portion correct! LOL -- but, I feel your comments are quite justified, and the only thing that is worse, is our own children are products of "no longer faithful" which breaks my heart. I am so grateful that this is a passion for you and Jordan - keep up the great work and keep on writin'!
Love you, Auntie M