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Prof cites teens’ need for caring relationships

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–In a recent University of Chicago study, signaling devices were distributed to thousands of teens across America.
The students were “beeped” at different times of day over several weeks and instructed to write down what they were thinking or feeling at the time.
So, what was most often on their minds?
“They were lonely; almost terrified of being alone,” Brian Richardson told youth workers attending his seminar, “Building a Better Teen.” The session was part of the National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference, July 13-17 at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center.
“What do most of today’s youth need from you?” Richardson, professor of youth education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., asked. “They need you to care. They need personal, caring relationships.”
Building rapport with teens requires getting to know them at their level, Richardson said. Among negative characteristics of today’s teens, who are often called “millenials,” Richardson said they are busy, lazy, confused, used to instant gratification and often unable to understand the long-term commitment required for spiritual growth.
On the positive side, they have an increased interest in their right to engage in religious clubs on campus, they are ambitious to clean and build the physical world, they will maintain the warmest of intergenerational bonds and they have an interest in community and collective peer action.
When it comes to religion, Richardson said many of today’s youth question a need for God. “This is growing out of the educational humanistic influence in their early lives that focuses on human potential,” Richardson said.
Those who do express an interest in religion, he said, demonstrate erratic Bible study attendance patterns and often have short attention spans. They want Bible study with practical handles for everyday, real-life experiences and ministry that focuses on action.
“You need to help these teenagers develop a love relationship with Jesus Christ,” Richardson told the youth workers. “Be a person of integrity, a person who inspires a closer walk with Christ. A stream will rise no higher than its source.”
Richardson encouraged youth workers to help teens grow spiritually by:
1) speaking to them about your own spiritual struggles and victories.
2) encouraging them to be involved in ministry.
3) respecting their styles and methods of spiritual growth.
4) providing an atmosphere that encourages and affirms spiritual growth.
5) providing helpful Bible study tools and methods.
Youth workers can help teens establish and maintain a daily devotional time, Richardson said, by helping them see the need for a consistent time of day, a place that is free from interruptions, quality Bible study materials and making it a priority in their lives.
“They need to know that real spiritual growth is not instantaneous,” he said, “but a daily time alone with God is the most important thing they can do.”
The National Sunday School Leadership Conference was sponsored by the Sunday school division at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Chip Alford