It’s the final stretch for the 2020 school year, and in a normal year it would be filled with several “lasts” that help bring closure for teenagers as they move from one grade to another and enter their summer break. Of course, this year is far from normal.
Teenagers are at home, activities are shut down, and many of those “lasts” are lost.
Schools and churches are launching digital programming to deliver content to the generation of our country that is the most digitally native among us. Other generations are learning and exploring this great new digital land where our teenagers have already built settlements and cities. In many ways, it’s their land, and we are invading it.
And, it’s about time.
The teenagers in your church and community need you in this moment to embrace the awkwardness of discovering a new land in order to reach them. They probably won’t say that to you, and you probably won’t get a welcome party, but they need you there with them, and they are worth it.
This generation of teenagers is the most connected generation we’ve seen, and yet the most disconnected at the same time. They have thousands of surface level relationships and conversations while few people in their lives truly know them. Anxiety, loneliness, and depression are serious challenges they were already facing before COVID-19 and sheltering in place gained the potential to morph into isolation.
The message of hope found in Jesus is the conversation your teenagers need right now. They need to hear it from you, and they need to be equipped to have that conversation with their friends. In many ways, student ministry has an opportunity in this moment to equip teenagers to talk about their faith in Jesus more than any other time. They are ready to hear it, and they are ready to pass it on to their friends.
I’ve been so encouraged by the work of student ministry leaders to move programming online in the first few weeks of this pandemic. It has been an incredible effort fueled by a desire to continue ministering to teenagers. Now, my challenge to student ministry leaders is to move beyond online programming to content that will specifically address the need and opportunity of the moment.
In 2 Corinthians 3:18, we see that as we stare at Jesus we will be transformed into His image. We know that we stare at His image through the Bible. The reality is that your teenagers are going to stare at something in their life and their identity will be transformed around that image: hurt, depression, religiosity, relationships, fear, COVID-19, and so on.
One of the main tasks of student ministry then is to help teenagers learn how to fix their eyes on Jesus rather than the abundance of other options we have to stare at in our world.
“Unprecedented” is a word that’s been used many times to describe this moment. I believe, because of the abundance of time that teenagers now have coupled with a posture of readiness to hear from God, you as a student ministry leader have an unprecedented moment to help students engage with God’s Word in a new and more consistent way.
Dream with me for a moment on what this could look like. What if there were thousands of teenagers who began reading the Bible consistently while we are sheltering at home?
What would families, churches, and communities begin to look like as the lives of teenagers are transformed by God’s Word and what would these same things look like a decade from now? What if sheltering at home became the spark of revival that has been so often led by young people in our nation’s history?
I believe these things can happen, but it will take you, student ministry leader, continuing to forge ahead settling in a new already inhabited digital land, and it will take you being willing to stay there when we are no longer sheltering at home.
Ben Trueblood is director of LifeWay Students.
The LifeWay Students team is offering help to student ministers during the COVID-19 crisis. If you’re looking for free digital Bible studies, need help troubleshooting Zoom or Google hangouts, or you’re just looking for community and support from other student ministers, check out https://studentministry.lifeway.com/hub/.