The way we think about teenagers as well as our expectations for them over the last few decades has befuddled me for quite some time. When children are young, it seems like parents have a constant expectation for growth and maturity. We “push” our children to say their first words, to go from crawling to walking, to start reading and writing, to go from one educational milestone to another, to learn chores around the home, etc. But then they become teenagers and many parents suddenly begin accepting immaturity as the norm rather than maturity. Teenagers (who were once competent children) can’t clean their rooms anymore, or work hard at school, or do chores, or be expected to read well, or study, or even to think! Certainly, I understand hormonal changes and social/relational/identity issues for teens, but it seems that the last couple of generations of parents/adults have created much of this problem. I just don’t think we are taking teenagers seriously anymore, almost expecting them to be foolish, silly, and only interested in fun for all, all of the time.
A prime example of this thinking in the church comes in the form of questions that I hear way too often: “But how do you keep their attention?” or “How do we keep them from getting bored?” Behind those questions is the assumption that if a youth leader tries to teach the Bible in a serious manner, or talk seriously with teenagers, the youth will just tune out, daydream, or sleep. So due to this fear, we try to do skits and games and activities to keep our teenagers interested in Sunday School and youth group. Now, in limited quantities, these “fun” activities are not a problem and may even be helpful; but, they too often substitute for the serious study of God’s Word, essential Christian doctrine, and true practical application. Without realizing it, we end up treating our teenagers more like children than emerging adults.
I guess that’s my real beef here: Why do we think that a 13-year-old is more akin to a 3-year-old than a 23-year-old? Why do we seek to engage primarily through fun and games versus study and intellectual development? Why do we want to lighten everything up for teenagers instead of making it even more serious? These are questions we need to answer in the church and in our youth ministries today. I think it’s time to take our teenagers seriously!
So, just to emphasize my case for raising the “serious bar” with our youth, consider the following thoughts:
1. Our teens live in a serious world. They are surrounded by serious issues that must be taken seriously. To try to make their lives mostly fun, recreation, humor, and light is to ignore what is going on around them all the time.
2. Our teens have serious concerns of what they see all around them. How can they be expected to talk to us about serious things if we are just working to keep everything less-than-serious?
3. Our teens really want to be serious about things in life. I refuse to believe that teens want to just avoid all the important things for the non-essentials. They are preparing for some of the most serious decisions of their lives: Marriage, family, calling, career, etc.
4. Our teens need to be engaged in serious conversations about God and His world all the time. Even if they don’t want to be serious, the role of adults in their lives is to call them on to maturity and responsibility.
5. Our LORD calls upon teens to seriously seek wisdom. Just read the Book of Proverbs. God expects His people to seek wisdom and to put aside folly. Why allow teens to grow more foolish by neglecting the serious pursuit of wisdom?
6. Putting off serious study is just putting off serious maturity. Our teens will become adults–and very soon! When exactly do we think they are going to become serious about God and their lives? In college? Sorry, delaying the serious pursuit of truth is really just creating bigger and bigger children, who can become very dangerous indeed!
In all seriousness, this is why we at One Story Ministries designed our 6-year Youth Sunday School Curriculum to be serious intellectual and spiritual study (click here to check it out). The first year is essentially a systematic theology designed to build a Biblical Worldview. The second year is all about seriously engaging youth about Biblical relationships. We are also working on a two-year Bible survey course that will teach beginning hermeneutics, as well as a year of Biblical apologetics, and a final year of Biblical counseling. Is all this much too serious for teenagers? Maybe for the ones who have been allowed to be more like children than adults; but not for the ones who the Spirit is moving from being baby Christians to growing adult believers!