As the former preaching pastor of a thriving church who has intentionally chosen the ministry pathway of working with the hormone/adrenalin saturated segment of the church-going population (aka “teenagers), I often get asked why in one way or another. Why would I resign from what many consider to be the most powerful position in a church (“the pastor”) to pursue highly distracted and super twitchy teens? Why would I give up the security and stability of preaching to adults week in and week out to travel the country and train teenagers to share their faith…at a $23 per student financial loss mind you! Why would I subject myself, staff and family to the endless stress that comes from trying to raise money and run a non-profit during what many consider to be the worst recession since The Great Depression?
Sometimes good intentioned Christians ask me, “How long do you think you’ll be doing Dare 2 Share?” I know what they are getting at. It’s almost as though they think that, when I hit a certain age or level of maturity, I will say “enough is enough” and put on my big boy pants so that I can pastor again.
So, for those of you who are involved in youth ministry or wonder why people like me are, let me give you some answers to the question “why teenagers?”
1. God has a “bad habit” of choosing teenagers to accomplish his greatest causes.
From Joseph, a teenager sold into slavery by his brothers, to Esther, a teenager who won a beauty contest, God has used young people in big ways to do big things. He used both Joseph and Esther to save the nation of Israel in two very different ways.
In 1 Samuel 16 when the prophet Samuel goes to the house of Jesse it is not the ripped and dapper men of the house that God chooses. It is the underage runt of the litter that got annointed as the future king of Israel. One chapter later this kid named David, who was delivering cheese and crackers to his older brothers in the war, got ticked off that a nine foot six inch Philistine giant was talking smack against the God of Israel. His anger left an impression on Goliath…a deep one.
But its not just in the Old Testament where God demonstrates his predisposition to choose and use teenagers. Jesus primarily picked teens to be his disciples. In Matthew 17 when Jesus, Peter and the disciples go into Capernaum, only Peter and Jesus pay the temple tax (although all of the disciples are there!) According to Exodus 30:14 the temple tax was only applicaple to those twenty years old and above. If I’m reading that right that means that Jesus was a youth leader with only one adult sponsor…and one really rotten kid.
2. God receives maximum glory when the “foolish things of the world” confound the wise.
1 Corinthains 1:26-29 makes this crystal clear, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
If this passage is not a case for working with teenagers I don’t know what is. Teenagers are foolish, goofy and crazy. I love it! God loves it! He wants to use them as twitchy revolutionaries to change the course of nations and to launch a global awakening of Biblical proportions just like his Son did 2,000 years ago!
3. It just makes sense.
Teenagers are wet cement. They form to the forms layed out for them. While working with adults is definitely important sometimes a jackhammer and wheel barrow is required before the wet cement can be poured in their souls.
Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the brightest mind in the 1st Great Awakening in the United States, records that the “revival has been chiefly amongst the young….” As a matter of fact, teenagers have been on the leading edge of every major spiritual awakening in the history of the United States.
Teenagers are idealists, visionaries and unrealistic. This lack of realism allows them to see visions and have dreams that thoses of us who have been worn down by the realities of life may no longer see. Adults tend to use microscopes and teenagers telescopes. We tend to get worn down by life and they tend to get fired up by causes. We wonder how much money it will take and they just don’t care.
If ignorance is bliss they are in heaven. But it’s this same ignorance that will get many into heaven. They don’t know that they can’t reach the world for Christ just by spreading the gospel so they are willing to do it. They don’t know that they can’t reach their school without demographic research so they just reach it. They don’t know that it takes more than prayer, proclamation and good intentions so they pray and preach with pure hearts and God uses them as a result.
Hitler hijacked teen culture and used it to advance the Nazi agenda. Communists harness and unleash the idealism of teenagers to spread the message of communism. If evil people and evil philosophies can mobilize young people for their causes then why can’t the Bride of Christ unleash young people to spread the gospel for the best cause ever, the spread of the gospel across the planet?
Teenagers are the most underutiziled, underestimated and underchallenged group of people in the church. As a result our churches are dying.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Admiral Yamamoto was asked about how he felt. His answer was stark, “I am fearful that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with terrible resolve.”
It is time to awaken the sleeping giant in the church called teenages and fill them with holy resolve.