WACO—Churches should look ahead to consider the needs new generations have to know God and experience the life Christ wants to give them, a veteran student discipleship leader told a Texas Baptist workshop.
Jane Wilson, youth discipleship specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, led a session on “Digging Deeper: Being the Leader Your Teenagers Need” during Texas Baptists’ annual meeting.
Wilson’s recommendations to those who seek to minister to teenagers began with what she called the most important step—spending time with God.
“Pay the price of having an intimate relationship with Christ,” Wilson said.
Paying the price means dedicating time to read and learn more about God, as well as praying and meditating on what Christ taught in the Gospels, she said.
Lead by example
Teenagers in the church need to see in their church leaders a model of who Christ called his followers to be, she added.
As leaders model servanthood, teenagers learn to live in a way that resembles how Christ lived, she noted.
“If I’m not becoming more and more like a servant, I’m not becoming more and more like Christ,” Wilson noted.
The sacrifice of serving others might bring the temptation of also wanting recognition for that selfless act, she acknowledged. But followers of Christ must remember their actions should only be done to honor and please God, she insisted.
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Against the norms of society, Wilson also said church leaders must show a model of submission to the church’s youth group.
“We equate submitting to authority as letting someone else run over us,” she said.
Instead, teenagers need to see their leaders submitting to governments, laws and to each other.
Through the example of leaders, teenagers also learn the freedom found in receiving forgiveness and not holding onto anger, she added.
Give them space, give them grace
In addition to learning from examples, teenagers also learn when church leaders offer space and freedom so students can grow by practicing their giftedness and talents. However, that freedom must come with support and guidance, she added.
As teenagers explore what drives them and discover what they do well, church leaders and parents also must teach them responsibility, she explained.
For many, growing up includes making mistakes and learning from them. So, leaders also should understand teenagers will need a lot of room for grace, she said.
“Remember we were just as irritating to grown-ups as some teenagers are with us,” Wilson said.
Like Christ forgives, Jesus’ followers in the church also need to forgive teenagers who make mistakes as they learn and mature, she said.
Finally, Wilson added teenagers need leaders who will stand up for them against injustice.
Whether they fight among each other, or they experience problems and trauma at home or in school, church leaders who walk with them should offer a safe space at church, Wilson said.
“Make sure they know the house of God is a place where they are safe,” she said.