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6/12/97 Effective youth workers understand ‘whassup’ with teens, leader says

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP) — So, you want to know “whassup” with today’s teenagers?
For starters, bellbottoms, baggies and beepers are in; piercing isn’t just for the ears anymore; and the Newsboys are no longer the kids who deliver your paper.
These are just a few of the things youth workers need to be aware of if they want to effectively reach the youth who will ring in the new millennium.
“Effective youth workers stay abreast of trends and traditions that define the life of a teenager,” Chuck Gartman, lead youth consultant for the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Bible teaching-reaching division, said, quoting from a book by futurist George Barna. “Sometimes we need to take what they know and relate it to what they need to know.”
Gartman led a seminar on youth trends during the National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference June 9-13 at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center.
Staying abreast “doesn’t mean you have to go to every movie, listen to every song or read every magazine,” Gartman explained. “You just need to keep up with what’s going on, what is popular with teenagers. You can do that by simply reading the newspaper and talking with your youth.”
Sharing from Barna’s book, “Generation Next,” Gartman said effective youth workers also:
— develop a pre-determined philosophy of life and ministry,
— pray very specifically for teenagers,
— are accessible and transparent with their youth,
— have spiritual growth as their ultimate goal,
— emphasize interactive learning and
— leverage the limited resources available to them.
“You can’t totally compete with the world; you probably don’t have the budget,” Gartman told youth workers. “But you can make whatever you do ‘quality.’ You can have excellence in your attitude and approach to ministry.”
Gartman said it’s also vital that youth workers “model” the lessons they teach.
“I’m not talking about being ‘fakey holy,’ I’m talking about practicing what you preach,” he said. “A young person can see right through you if you aren’t being real.”
In addition, Gartman encouraged youth workers to live through crises with their teens.
“If you walk through the ‘minor’ crises with them, such as breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend or making a bad grade on a test, then they’ll turn to you when major crises happen in their lives.”
Today’s youth desperately need spiritual role models to turn to, Gartman said.
He acknowledged “a pretty bleak picture” of Generation X has been painted in the press, some of it justified, some not. Often described as apathetic, disrespectful, morose, cynical, indecisive and prone to violence, Generation Xers have had more than their share of negative labels.
But Gartman urged youth workers to remember what today’s youth have grown up with: social unrest, inept and corrupt government at all levels of the political spectrum, environmental concerns from global warming to global cooling, declining values, a soaring national debt, escalating divorce rates and a society that supports the idea that there are no absolute truths.
In addition, Gartman said the media teaches young people that “horror is normal,” “the dishonorable is honorable,” “life is boring,” “celebrity status equals hero status” and “religion is a crutch.”
Despite these negative messages, Gartman said he does see signs of hope in the younger generation. For example, more than 10,000 student-led Bible study and prayer groups are now in place on American high school campuses, and hundreds of thousands of youth have participated in movements such as the prayer-focused “See You at the Pole” and the chastity-driven “True Love Waits” campaign.
Today’s teens are crying out for meaningful relationships more than ever before, Gartman said, adding many youth are even going to great lengths to find them.
“I had one youth tell me that he had never met his best friend face to face. He had met him on the Internet.”
Gartman urged youth workers to “help educate our churches about where teenagers are and what they’re dealing with.”
He and participants in his seminar listed several ways youth workers can effectively minister to today’s teens:
— be understanding.
— become an active part of the teenagers’ social and school life.
— take them out to eat or on other outings.
— show them love and affection.
— find a safe “cool home” where teens can hang out without getting into trouble.
— schedule more “drawing card” activities which appeal to teens, such as laser tag, paintball, etc.
— incorporate media (TV, movies, video, music) in Bible studies.
— demonstrate that Christianity is a relationship with a living God.
— emphasize Christian community.
— tell stories about real people who have been radically transformed through faith in Christ.
Effective youth ministry takes time and patience, Gartman said, especially since what’s “cool” today will likely be “tired” tomorrow.
“The key is we have to model (our faith) in our everyday lives,” he said. “There is hope in a relationship with Jesus Christ and we can help teenagers find that.”
The National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Bible teaching-reaching division.

    About the Author

  • Chip Alford