What do youth want? It is a question that many of us have asked ourselves over the years. Based upon how confused my parents were by having five children go through their teens relatively close together, most parents have no idea what teens want. Most teachers don't know, and we see this in their sometimes comical attempt to relate to students. I had a teacher try to rap one time to a bunch of suburban kids in an affluent area in New Jersey while he wore Birkenstock, AE Jeans, and a Ralph Lauren polo. I have seen churches try to relate to students by holding "teen nights" that usually include loud music, junk food, a speaker hyped up on caffeine and Monsters, and a bonfire. But if you were to take a poll of the students in attendance and asked them if their needs were met, most of them would say no.
Now let me say one thing. This is not true in all cases. Some parents, teachers, and churches do an absolutely wonderful job relating to their students. And to those of you who do, I commend you! You are seeing, hearing, and meeting the call to reach our youth. But this post isn't about them, it is about the others who don't, and most notably churches.
You see in working with students I have had the unique opportunity to engage with them. And if there is one thing you should know about students, it is this: They don't trust easily. Students in today's society have learned to be guarded, reserved, closed, and withdrawn from anyone seen as an authority figure. They do not trust those who are older than they are because that trust has been broken too many times to count and they do not want to be hurt again.
Youth today need for us as their leaders and mentors to be trustworthy. This is the first thing we need to realize as youth leaders. Students see this so clearly in everything we do and say. If we say we are going to do something, be somewhere, take them out, show up at their school, or any promise we make we had better stick by it! Students today have been so lied to, strung along, hurt, and misdirected that they are just waiting for us to break our promises or for our word to not be good enough.
Think about this for a moment. Were you ever lied to as a student? Did someone tell you they would be there for you and they weren't? Did you ever feel like someone let you down? The answer is yes! We all have. But the truth of the matter is that over time this didn't get any better, and in fact it has gotten worse. When we were younger we could rebound off of a let down or being lied to, but students today have come to accept this as the norm! No longer does our word mean anything. No longer does telling someone you are there for them hold any salt. No longer do students trust us! We need to earn their trust by showing them we are invested in their lives, their futures, and in them personally and spiritually.
As believers we are told to stick by our word! Matthew 5 points this out very clearly for us. We are told to let our answers be honest and true. We are told that our whole relationship with Christ is based upon trust and faith. And if we cannot model this to our students then why on earth should they listen to what we have to say?
Trust will change our students' lives! Could you imagine what would happen to just one student if someone kept their word 100% of the time with them? Could you see them beginning to trust that person? Can you see the relationship that would be built? In order for us to reach them with the Gospel we first need to establish that we can be trusted. If we are not being honest and truthful, then why should they trust and believe what we have to say? There is no reason for belief if they cannot trust those who teaching.
We as leaders have a high calling to lead younger generations towards the saving grace of Christ. This can only be accomplished by first building a framework that is founded upon trust in the power of the cross!