Over recent Mondays, we have focused this blog on some of the unique characteristics of leading small groups for teens or students. I am not sure what your terminology is for teenagers. You might call them teens, teenagers, students, youth, or every Gen Z-ers. All those terms work. I will use the terms interchangeably, so don’t let me confuse you. I am just trying to appeal to the largest possible audience reading this blog.
I have spent some time thinking about the needs of students in your small groups. I think students deeply desire to have an adult, or a few adults, simply care for them.
Our culture abandons teens. We expect them to be more independent at earlier ages. Often teens grow up in one-parent households where that parent works feverishly to provide. Sometimes in two parent-homes, both parents are deeply engaged with their lives and work and unintentionally neglect their teens. Teens go to school, often forming a sort of teen ghetto for six hours a day where they actually have very little contact with adults. The culture down plays adults and their roles in teens’ lives. Teens get all kinds of mixed messages from the culture and they seldom have the life experiences needed to sort it all out. They struggle to understand themselves and often make the assumption that since they do not understand themselves, no one else can understand them. They are looking for love and acceptance. You can build Christ-centered relationships with teens if you accept them. Why?
- God loves them, just as they are. He is the One who transforms them so our job is to love them so they discover God’s love.
- God made them. They are not accidents. They have purpose and meaning, found most significantly in Jesus Christ.
- They have potential. Their potential is rooted in knowing and following Jesus.
- They have ability and value now. They aren’t just the church of the future; they are the church today. They are capable of powerful ministry now.
- They need Jesus. Your love and acceptance can open them to the salvation and discipleship Jesus offers them. Your acceptance models Jesus’ acceptance.
- Their lives touch many other lives. They have influence and can use that influence for the kingdom of God. They can be on mission now.
- Every idea out there is trying to capture them. If we do not reach them, some philosophy, ideal, concept, or sin will.
How can you demonstrate your acceptance to them?
- Accept them where they are. They are not perfect. God is okay with that because He is the One who can and will change them.
- Converse with them. Don’t just talk at them or lecture them. Seek to engage in real conversation just as you do with adults.
- Listen to them. The things they say, or don’t say, may shock you. Be unshockable so they know you accept them.
- Show interest in the things that interest them. Attend a band concert or a basketball game. Go to a scout court of honor. Know where they go to school, where they live, and where they work.
- Ask them good questions about life which require more than a yes or no. Then listen to their answers with genuine interest.
- If they disagree with you, listen to them. Let them hold their point. Love them anyway. You don’t have to win every discussion immediately. When you show you can listen without judgment of them as persons, they will be more open to hearing your point.
- Pray for them. Then pray some more for them. Pray. Pray. And, then pray some more for them.
I lead multiple small groups of college students. God has blessed that work. Over the years I have learned two things that open them up to talking about the Lord. I tell them I love them. And, when I see Christ-likeness, achievement, success, commitment, and faithfulness in their lives, even if it is just a bit, I tell them how proud I am of them. Because I do those two things, my days are filled with divine interruptions that open the door for Jesus-centered conversations. Try it and see if this soon happens to you.
Scripture: Read John 13:34-35, John 17:12, and John 15:17. How would you apply Jesus’ teachings to accepting teens in your small group?
Dig Deeper: Take out a couple of sheets of paper. Write a name of a student in your small group. Then list everything you know about that student. Continue this with every name in your small group. How well do you know them? How can you know them better? How will this help them know you accept and love them?
Now It’s Your Turn: What are some ways you demonstrate unconditional acceptance for the students in your small group? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”