If you ask a teen who attends a Christian church about what she has in common with the characters or situations depicted in the Bible, you might hear, “I don’t know.” This is a fair answer. Many of the characters in the Bible were Jewish and followed customs that may make no sense to today’s teens. To help teens understand the fundamental teachings of the Bible and their faith, make youth church classes relevant and relatable.
Take Teens Seriously
There are a lot of issues that today's teens face that aren’t covered in the Bible -- like who to take to the prom or how to balance school with an after-school job. It’s simple for adults to think that because the teen years make up a small fraction of a person’s life, the trials that young people face are trivial, silly or unimportant. However, one of the biggest reasons that teens attend church classes, according to the “New York Times” article “How to Get Teens Excited about God,” is because they want to understand what they believe. Having a youthful spirit as a teacher, being tech-savvy and knowing all the latest teen trends will only get you so far if you don’t take the young people in your class seriously by validating their feelings and helping them make valid connections with lessons from the Bible.
A teen church class that’s relevant is one that’s transparent about the personal struggles that Christians face in regards to their faith. As teens learn to think more abstractly, they may no longer believe in God and the Bible’s teachings just because their parents tell them to. The choice to believe becomes a matter of personal faith, and this faith comes with natural doubts. Teens aren’t looking for adults to tell them that God will make everything turn out well because of a divine plan. They want reassurances that struggling with faith is normal, OK and won’t make God angry. Talk to teens about their doubts and help them learn to use them as a way to grow spiritually.
Talk Honestly about Jesus’ Ministries
Almost any teen in a church can tell you that Jesus was born on Christmas, performed miracles, died on the cross and rose on Easter. With sensitive egos, as well as headlines and school groups focused on equal rights and inclusivity, teens are interested in what Jesus really had to say about marginalized groups -- the unpopular and the outcasts. From a young age, many teens in the church learn that God loves everyone, but they watch teens of like faith exclude others or chastise them for being different. Because teens often worry about being accepted, and a lot of focus is placed on self-image, they’re often drawn to lessons that recap Jesus’ teachings about inclusivity, according to the “Washington Post” article “The Church Young Catholics Want.” In addition to dining with dishonest tax collectors, sex workers and those who would later betray Him, Jesus taught in the Beatitudes that children, peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the sad, the hungry and the oppressed are blessed and that the kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.
Remind Teens of God’s Omnipresence
One of the most important teachings in the Bible is about God’s omnipresence -- the ability to be everywhere at all times. Don’t use this lesson to scare teens into thinking twice before getting into trouble. Remember that the young people in your church class have grown up alongside individuals who come from different religions, family structures and cultures. Use lessons about God’s omnipresence to assure teens that God is with them through all their joys and struggles. In addition, remind them that God is also present in the lives of those who hold different standards and practice different religions, making reconciliation and friendship possible.
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