Odds are, if you’ve been in the youth ministry game for a minute, there was a moment when you realized that you weren’t fully “with it” anymore. You heard your students speaking what sounded like English, but had no idea what they were saying. Or you referenced the plot of The Matrix in one of your sermons, and your students asked if that was a new AR/VR game.
Whatever the case, whether you’re an older Gen Zer, a millennial, or even more experienced in life, at some point you realized that you were different from the youths. You could have a working familiarity with their language, wear their clothes, and try to keep up with their media consumption, but at the end of the day you know that you come from another era and you’re in a different life stage, and the best you can really do is relate to them across the differences.
In pursuit of that goal, we’d like to propose a few points for self-reflection to any pastors, leaders, and volunteers who find themselves in the wonderful world of youth ministry.
Reflection 1. Questions are integral to healthy faith
The average American adult grew up in educational atmospheres where they were rewarded on their ability to answer pointed questions and take tests. Many of us were taught that questions are no more than tools used to measure information retention. However, now that we are grownups tasked with teaching teenagers biblical truths, we cannot use the same paradigm of teaching that was passed down to us. Instead, we must answer questions, but also encourage students to wrestle with tough truths.
We see Jesus interacting and teaching His disciples in this way throughout the Gospels. He asked more questions than answered them, but consistently reminded His followers that He was the embodiment of truth and was The Way, The Truth, and The Life.
How many of us know from experience that the quickest way to shut down a faith conversation with a student is to give a direct answer to the question that started it? Answers, in this way, are the end of the line; they have no creative power. It’s questions that spark the best innovations, the deepest reflections, the most prolonged wrestling matches with God. So encourage students in your youth group to ask questions so that their faith can be made strong, but lead and guide them in their journey. There is still a right answer and He is Jesus. Any other ‘truth” that sets itself against the Truth of God is not truth, so let them wrestle but be mindful to guide them like a true shepherd.
Reflection 2. Changing up your teaching style can be beneficial
The majority of us were most likely taught through an instructional teaching method known as didactic teaching. This is a teaching method our generation has a tendency to fall back on when raising up young people in the Christian faith. We can be very concerned with getting our point across that we end up dictating information rather than facilitating engagement. Just knowing that the seeds have been scattered is satisfaction enough; when and where they land and what tools our teens have to cultivate them is less of a concern. Instead of giving students the space and time to learn through experience and guided reflection, we take what we know and attempt to transfer it instantly to our students.
This pattern is what was modeled to us as we were growing up, and it’s up to us to intentionally model another way for our students. Our focus must turn to facilitating engagement. Good old-fashioned teaching does have a place in this, but only as a starting point.
Reflection 3. Spiritual Mentors are good, but they are not God.
There is a tendency among Christians to regard the spiritual leaders in their lives (and perhaps even famous authors and preachers who they do not personally know) as “perfect” models of the Christian life. In most cases, the spiritual mentor would be the first to admit that they are far from perfect, but then we further admire them for their humility.
Now, we know that we are encouraged to mimic godly people as they mimic Jesus. We are further called to honor and submit to the spiritual authorities God has placed over us. The trouble comes in forgetting that these authorities are people too, vulnerable to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, just like us.
We forget that, and then when our heroes stumble, we are shocked, disillusioned, thrown into spirals of doubt – “Was everything I ever learned from them a lie?”
As pastors and leaders of youth, it’s important that we catch and correct ourselves when we discover ourselves leaning into this tendency. First, because we do not want to model it to our students. Second, because we do not want to feel pressure to present ourselves as perfect examples to our youth the same way we imagine our mentors did for us. Gen Z treasures authenticity, and if we go around hiding our flaws for the sake of setting a good example, we will be defeating ourselves in that very purpose.
The good example we should seek to set is how to walk the Christian life through the rough terrain of life, stumbling, falling, and getting back up, again and again.
- Reflect on your leadership and the generational differences you have observed in relation to Gen Z. Where could you grow in your leadership and what steps can you take today to get there?
- Check out Feed Lead where you can learn more about relating to Generation Z and how to lead them closer to Jesus in the midst of their questions and doubts.
- The Feed Team would love to connect with you as you seek to make changes in your youth ministry. Reach out to us at [email protected] to find out how we can partner with and support you in your ministry.