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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Ideas on how to engage youth |

in the ways of moral living

By BRANDON A. PERRY

Last week’s front-page religion article dealt with a question of critical importance in our community: How can congregations engage teens and young adults in the 21st century?

In a society rife with increased peer pressure, violent crime and an “anything goes” attitude on social issues, churches are desperately needed to offer an alternative message of salvation, hope, love, sanity and practical solutions to common challenges.

From a biblical perspective, Christian adults are instructed to “train up a child in the way he should go, so that even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) Following this instruction means our children will enjoy the gift of Christ’s love and have a moral compass to guide them as life gets tougher into adulthood.

Also, from an entirely practical perspective, strong efforts to reach youth are absolutely essential to the posterity of the Christian church as an institution. After all, youth who aren’t motivated to develop love for God today might not be available or ready to become the next generation of church leaders.

Last week the Recorder consulted a few “experts” on youth outreach. I definitely don’t claim to be an expert in this area, but I would add the following ideas on how to engage our youth and hope they will be helpful to at least one congregation:

Life, liberty and the pursuit of choice

Most children and teens crave freedom and the ability to make their own choices. Having said that, the most effective youth ministry would probably be one that is based on their suggestions, needs and desires.

Some church leaders often make the mistake of creating youth programs that are built around issues adults want to talk about and activities they can only presume youth would be interested in. We must remember that some of the things that were hip while we were kids are now viewed as “old school” so understanding today’s youth culture is essential.

It is important to call a meeting of teens in the congregation (and neighborhood) and give them the choice as to what kind of activities they would enjoy, what kind of speakers and music artists they would like to see and which issues they want to discuss.

Let’s talk about sex

Some church folk are still hesitant to have a frank discussion about the various forms of sexual temptation – fornication, homosexuality and pornography – although they are devastating the lives of many youth, leading to a rise in STDs, unwanted pregnancies by young parents not ready to care for children, low self-esteem due to broken relationships and a distorted view of sex that makes it seem as casual as conversation.

You have probably noticed the commercials on television that show provocative looking teenagers saying “If you don’t talk with your son/daughter about sex, I will.”

Parents and the church must join forces to counter the world’s view that it’s OK to jump from mate to mate like animals. Our youth must know that sexual intimacy is a great gift from God, and that leaving the gift unopened before marriage honors him and increases satisfaction and intimacy with our eventual marriage partner.

Besides, most youth are fascinated by sex anyway – they just need to finally hear about it from a biblical perspective. You certainly wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they’re listening.

Encouragement without judgment

Whether they like to admit it or not, most youth actually appreciate positive guidance from adults and are willing to be open about their thoughts and choices if they don’t feel like they’re being judged.

Of course, parents play the leading role of adult “counselor” in a teen’s life, but the youth ministers, volunteers and mentors can supplement this support by providing encouragement.

Everyone makes mistakes when they are young, and we must remind our youth that God still loves them despite those mistakes. All they have to do is welcome him into their life and move forward in achieving the purpose he has for them.

It is also important to honor youth who are doing well in school, active in the church and contributing at home. This can go a long way in preventing them from searching for “approval” from gangs, drug dealers, promiscuous and abusive boyfriends/girlfriends (gay and straight) and other individuals who don’t have their best interest in mind.

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