Building Bridges to Youth


Improving communications between today’s teens and adults is one of our great remaining frontiers. And there is no person more strategically placed for this assignment than the youth sponsor in the local church.

We live in a day when, as never before in history, our young people need us and want us. They want us, that is, if we can help them solve problems and find answers they desperately need to orient themselves in a world which is moving toward chaos at a staggering speed.

Today’s teens possess amazing quantities of knowledge and information and have available an almost unlimited variety of experiences. This has developed in sponsors and parents a feeling of inferiority and
uneasiness which makes them wonder if they have anything worthwhile to say to these well informed and sophisticated youth. However, possession of information is only a part of the picture. Young people need to know how to use and manage this knowledge.

The job of sponsors and parents is to help young people acquire a set of right attitudes which will give them a stronger sense of self-acceptance. The cornerstone of this task is to relate the person of Jesus Christ to the life of the teen-ager. But tragically, how we attempt to do this is often the cause behind the alienation of the teen from the sphere of our influence.

In this article, I should like to propose four principles which, if understood and used, will greatly increase our efficiency and rapport with this sometimes baffling NOW generation.

Tell it as it is

Young people want to know the facts whether good or bad. This scares us. We are sure that if we tell teen-agers “bad” facts we are supplying them with license to sin. We carefully try to shield them from certain
truths and situations we think they should avoid. But teens have an uncanny ability to know whether or not we are leveling with them. If they suspect we are presenting only what we want them to hear, they write us off as out of touch.

Today’s teens have learned how to think logically to form conclusions after they have been given both sides of an issue. In church and at home they want us to tell it as it is.

Telling it as it is always gives to the listener the possibility of choice. Many of us do not have the courage or spiritual maturity to deal with teens in this dangerous and daring way. Our youth may choose what we call right or what we call wrong. We shudder when we think they may choose wrongly. In our great love for them and our desire to protect them, we want to block all possibility of wrong choices. But they insist that once we have given them the whole truth, and this includes the realization that choice is always followed by consequence, we proved an atmosphere of love, not conditional upon their choice. We are so adapt at shutting them out of our lives and our prayers if they disappoint us in any way.

Do not condemn

Obviously this is an outgrowth of the first principle. It is what we do when we have tried to shield them from error and have failed. We denounce their ingratitude, their disrespect for our judgment, their
disobedience to God. We make it quite clear that we love them only on one condition, our condition that they do exactly as we say. But “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the
world through Him might be saved.” We lose further influence in our teens’ lives when we register impatience, and shock, and make quick condemnation of their conduct.

Yet we are confronted by the words of Jesus, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” We do not have to approve but we do have to love and continue to pray for them. We must be sure our attitude of love and concern
really registers in the life of the one who has disobeyed. So often we fail to follow through to see that our youth really get the message we are radiating.

Build a triangle

What our teens want from us more than anything else is US – access to us as people. We are so busy organizing programs and implementing parties that we seldom have time to relax, discuss, and LISTEN. Teens see no sense in our preoccupation with the fringe when we are missing the core. Today’s youth don’t need to be impressed; they need to be understood.

However, before you throw away all your program plans, stop! We need programs, parties, and rallies, but these are valid only if they are secondary and complementary to a well-thought-out program of individual
attention for each teen. How long has it been since you have allotted an hour for each one of your young people?

God has given us a geometric principle which can revolutionize our thinking in our work with youth. Did you ever take two pieces of metal and fasten them together at one end? Notice how wobbly the resulting
structure is. Let one of those pieces represent your teen and the other represent Jesus Christ. Bring a young person to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and your worries are all gone. Christ does all the rest and you go merrily on your way. Is the result a solid structure? Hardly! We’re amazed at the amount of trouble into which a Christian teen can fall. We complain, criticize, and condemn. But rarely do we place the blame
where it really belongs – on our own shoulders. Why? Because we are so naive about this principle of youth work.

Now take a third piece of metal and fasten it to the unattached ends of the first structure. Note the rigidity of this triangular arrangement. The third piece represents you, the youth sponsor, pastor, or parent. Now you have created a solid foundation for spiritual growth. Bridge builders have used the triangle principle since ancient times and numerous examples are still in existence.

Three persons are necessary in a program for guaranteed growth, each having a distinct job to do. The youth must be an active participant in his own self-development. It is his life and it must be his decision
and discipline which will effect any real changes in his behavior. But he cannot do it alone. Left to his own planning and wisdom he will resolve and resolve, but nothing much is likely to happen.

That is where Jesus Christ enters the picture. He has unlimited power and can provide sufficient strength for carrying out the assignment. But often the person of Jesus Christ seems far away. He lives in heaven
and cannot be seen, heard, or touched. His Spirit lives in the life of the Christian teen, but to a young person this concept is remote and abstract.

This is where you and I enter the scene. We are flesh and blood people with bodies, voices, and personalities living right here and now. The teen-ager can hear us, see us, and feel us. More than that, he can see Jesus in us. We are representation of Jesus in our generation. The teen may not understand about Jesus in heaven or Jesus in himself, but he catches on quickly to the reality of Jesus in me. I am the present
reenactment of Jesus here on this earth living in a human body.

Today’s young person needs one Christian adult in whom he can fully and freely confide, one adult Christian who tells the whole truth, who loves without condition, and who is totally committed to Jesus Christ. Only in this atmosphere is there a good chance for the development of Christian maturity. We must mot be judgmental or condemnatory. We must be listeners. We must be willing to be abused, inconvenienced, challenged, and disobeyed.

Suddenly counseling youth becomes too demanding, too involved. It is easier to plan programs and write invitations to parties. The principle of the triangle leads to crucifixion; my crucifixion to free time, to
relaxation, and to doing what I want. If I become the third side of a triangle I learn what it means for a corn of wheat to fall into the ground and die. I agonize, I rebel, I resign…almost! Then I remember the words of Jesus that a disciple is not greater than his Lord. And I realize my salvation is based squarely upon Jesus’ crucifixion for me and of His permanent identification with me. And suddenly enthusiasm for reality wells up within me. This is the frontier, the great high calling of being the today representation of Jesus Christ to my young people. If they don’t see Him in me they may never see Him.

Include the parents

In spite of all the principles I know and all the effort I expend I will not be able to accomplish more in the life of any one of my youth than his parents decide I should. The parents of a teen set upper limits on maturity which the youth sponsor or pastor cannot exceed. When we attempt to do more for our young people than parents think essential or expedient, they tend either to resent us for trying to steal their children or they block our efforts by contradictory conduct and speech at home.

The primary responsibility for a young person’s Christian maturity rests with his parents. We are to cooperate with parents but not to undermine them or work against them. A young person is always under
divine command to honor his parents and to obey them in every situation except where his parents specifically order him to violate a command given by God in His written word.

The wise sponsor communicates with the parents to learn their goals and hopes for their child. A valid and often successful approach is the sponsor tells the parent he would like to help their teen-ager become
the kind of young person the parents want him to be.

If in this article you looked for a stereotyped formula which guarantees results, you didn’t find it. Teens aren’t responsive to such techniques – especially today’s teens. There are no short cuts which remove the hard work and the frustration. But there are principles that when recognized, applied, and strengthened with prayer, bring results. And the results can be young people who continue to grow into full statue in the image of Jesus Christ.

(The original source and/or publisher of the above material is unknown.)

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