Teenager of the Year

Last week, Time Magazine, selected Greta Thunberg the Swedish teen climate activist as their Person of the Year. Since that announcement, people have been divided (no shocker for our country!) and criticizing the magazine’s decision. I find the banter and debate interesting. I wonder if it has to do with the political divisive topic or is it the fact that she is a teenager?

Let’s take politics out of this for a minute. Whether you agree with the choice, or think she is deserving or not, Greta is the third single female named with this honor. (Other women would be included in “groups” or in a group with men.) So, as far back as 1927, every year but three, men have been named. And now we have a female, and not just any female, but a teenager. This is significant because they have never given a teen the title.

If you live or work with young people, take a few minutes to talk about the impact of Greta’s work. Again, you may not agree with her stance or even that she is deserving, but think about the fact that she is a teenager. We all know, and remember when we were that age, that most teens believe the world resolves around them. So, there is a fine line to walk when engaging in this conversation, but young people need to feel empowered to change their world. Whatever the topic, whatever their passion, they need to know the love and support of the adults in their lives to believe they can do it.

In my vocation, I typically work with “churched” teens and young adults. So, I tend to encourage them to change the way the world sees us as Christians. Break the mold, stand up for what you believe in and let other see what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Or stand up for someone who doesn’t have a voice.

Young people today have an audience. The world does listen. Time Magazine even listens to them! Unlike the teens and young adults who were protesting the Vietnam War, today they have more resources, more money and more technology. They can change their world. Set them free to do just that.

Celebrities and Religion

There is a new trend. Well, there are several new trends. Maybe the biggest right now is the app Tik Tok, but that’s not what we are talking about today. Today, let’s look at the trend with celebrities who are turning their lives to Jesus. Jordan Nations wrote an article titled, “Bieber. Chance. Kanye. Selena-and the movement Christians are missing”. I found the article interesting and a little thought provoking. The idea the maybe we have been a little too critical or ignored the fact that these performers, maybe because they are famous, are publicly talking about their faith.

My first thoughts always go to, “How are young people being affected by this?” (Listen to our podcast as we talk with a teenager about the article.) I hope that this isn’t just the next trend, but something that will be deep rooted. As the statics show (https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/) Christianity continues at a decline each year in this country. We all know that “influencers” are starting to impact our young people from the clothes they wear to the music they listen to. So, we can only hope that if Justin Bieber or Kanye bring the “cool factor” to Christianity maybe it will be enough to spark some curiosity in a teen to explore church? Check out this post from Justin back in September. https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2019/september/justin-bieber-opens-up-about-how-the-love-of-christ-led-him-through-heavy-drug-abuse-anxiety

It’s quite clear that now more than ever, young people may claim to be religious, but they are not all attending our churches. So, being conscience of what is trending, and what these celebrities are saying and doing is important if we want to reach young people. It’s a great discussion starter. And like Nations says in his article, don’t be so quick to criticize, but celebrate lives being changed! And may we all get to be a part of something similar, and be influencers in our own right with our non-famous friends!

p.s. If you listen to the podcast, we talk about Kanye’s $250 sweatshirt. This price does include a pre-sale ticket to an event! 😉

It’s Brewing

Do you feel it?  Do you smell it?  You know the feeling you get, the chill that is in the air when a summer storm is brewing?  The smell of rain.  The wind turning over the leaves and the sky turning shades of green or yellow.  The ground will rumble, and you know it’s coming.  That is exactly how our country feels right now.  After reading Steve Argue’s blog “When their storms become ours: closing the distance between leaders and young people,” I just had to share and include my thoughts.

I love the storm image he uses because, as I stated at the beginning, I feel it, don’t you?  No matter where we stand politically on gun violence, these teens have an opinion, and I don’t think it is political, just ask them.

It’s vital that we do not stand back and watch the storm from a distance.  I would add, it is not just the youth leader/pastor, but the church that needs to engage teenagers in their storms of life.  Not only do we need to engage in discussions at youth group, but also pastors need to address these things in sermons.  It’s not pretty, but these kids are having the conversations, with their peers at the lunch table, or on social media.  They WILL go there WITH or WITHOUT us.  What we have to give them is a safe space to talk and offer a way for their faith to intertwine with these real-life answers to their tough questions.

Steve offers three suggestions for youth workers to enter into a more engaged relationship with their teens.

  • “Moving closer means letting your heart be broken.” Friends, we need to stop comparing ourselves with any other ministry in our community. For those who are paid workers, you worry about how “cool” your youth ministry is, so that your numbers can continue to grow, so you are not out of a job.  I get it. But guess what?  If you are not engaging this generation in meaningful conversations, it doesn’t matter how many pizzas you buy them or how much laser tag you play, they need you to truly get to know them, their fears, their passions, their hurts.  Take the time to allow your heart to be broken for them.
  • “Moving closer demands that you look beyond excellence toward empathy.” This goes back to pizza and laser tag parties.  I love the questions Argue asks here, “What do young people need from us?  How do we shift to ensure we are addressing the most essential needs of our young?  Where do our young people need support, protection, education or resources?  Who must we partner with and who must we confront?”  This is a shift in thinking.  Can you answer these?
  • “Moving closer requires you to stop collecting and start emptying.” This is a hard one.  Steve says in the blog that we need to empty our ministry of the systems and accolades we’ve worked so hard to earn.  We can no longer fit youth ministry into a neat little box.  It can’t happen in your time, on your schedule, with your programs.  We must go to them; we can’t expect them to come to us.  I love this quote, “Your job is to shrink the distances between young and old so that young people are seen, understood and supported.”  He says we are bridge builders, not wall builders. I would add, it is also our job to help teens understand the older generations in our congregations.  It is a two way street, we must be the bridge.  Be their advocate wherever you are, whatever meeting you attend, and whenever you are in conversation.

So, it is our move.  “Let’s build storm-chasing youth groups.”  If we do not give them the spaces and places where adults are engaging in their lives, teens will go elsewhere to find it.  May young peoples’ storms become ours.

The Youth Leader’s Network in East Ohio is working to help you do just that.  April 15th is a day for youth leaders to come hear a panel discussion around responding to tragedy.  Youth Annual Conference will have break-out sessions for teens and leaders on how to have hot topic discussions with people who disagree and still love one another.  In the fall, we are planning on another day of training on how to create a safe place to initiate and dive into these topics.