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My earliest experiences in reaching out to young people and serving them was at church camps back in the ’90s.
I was really just a young person then as well when I first started serving as one of the youth camp staff (assistant dorm counselor). The participants and staff came from different parts of the country (Philippines). I continued serving in this national church youth camp for the next two summers. And then the practice of holding national camps was stopped and regional camps and city-wide/province-wide camps were held instead. I continued to serve on for several years and then stopped as I moved to Thailand to serve as a missionary there.
Prior to moving to Thailand, I was given the opportunity to work with former street children in Cebu. A number of these children were in their teens. I served among these young people for a full year before I left for Thailand and when I came home after my first 2 years there. I served among them again until I was able to go back to Thailand.
In Thailand, particularly in Bangkok, I was given the privilege to help with youth work again in a local Thai church. My effort towards church planting/outreach work with a team also enabled me to connect with some young people in the village where I lived.
When I came back to the Philippines for good in 2007, I was eventually led to work with young people again. The difference this time, however, was I was now mainly involved in a training role and with the youth from different churches and groups throughout the country. I eventually helped in developing and producing a youth course which would help young people find their role in God’s Kingdom agenda and be engaged in the Great Commission. This course has been further refined and has now been made available in different countries. I let go of this training role for the youth in 2012 – the year I turned 40 🙂 I continue to love the young people that God sends my way but I have also come to realize that with my age, I may not be the best person to reach them now.
Through the years of serving the youth, I have learned a lot. I have gleaned several insights which I would like to share here. Perhaps as a youth worker or even as a parent, these 7 points might be of help to you:
- Listening is key. The best door, at least in my experience, in dealing with young people is to approach them with a listening ear. The youth have so many concerns which may no longer concern us older people 🙂 Many of them have heartbreaking stories about their families as well as failed relationships (romantic ones, friendships). If we want to reach them with the Gospel, if we desire to disciple them, we need to have ready ears to listen to them. We need to ask them questions and then be interested in what they have to say.
- Make room for fun. Approaching young people with too much seriousness and formality will not work. You need to be able to share laughter with them. Ask what songs or movies they like. What are their hobbies? Engage them with fun activities whenever possible. Do not make them think that having a relationship with the Lord is just all about reading the Bible and Bible studies. Help them to understand that while following the Lord might mean saying no to certain things, it also means saying yes to a joyful, purposeful life in Him.
- Spend time with them. Young people love to hang out. So it is best to allocate time to just be with them. You also need to watch, however, and remind them that they also need to be spending time with their family. I have heard of many stories of parents complaining that once their kids become believers (especially if the parents do not have their own faith journey), they now spend so much time “at church” or being involved in “youth meetings” (other versions: Bible studies, discipleship classes, youth activities). While the young people may come to love our company as well as that of their fellow young people, it is our responsibility to make them aware that their world is not just us or their Christian friends. That, in fact, now more than ever they are meant to be a blessing to their family and to others. We should not take away their family time or school time away from them.
- Be authentic. In past generations, there seems to be a prevalent thought or value that Christian leaders need to always portray an image that they are strong, that they do not have weaknesses. That approach, I must say, no longer works especially with young people. We do not have to confess all our sins or weaknesses to young people but we need to be honest that yes, we have our own problems, our own struggles and weakness. And what keeps us intact and going is Christ’s grace and strength. When we make mistakes, we admit and apologize.
- Walk the talk. This is related to the previous point. Sometimes when we teach something to young people, we might think they have not really paid attention. But they do. And they will actually observe if we live ourselves the things we taught them or challenged them to live by.
- Always pray for them. Pray for them by name. Ask God to be real in their lives. We are just instruments of God’s truth. It is God’s work to transform their hearts and minds.
- Be updated with youth trends, concerns, challenges. Understand their world, their concerns and challenges. Read about these. Ask them questions. You need to be able to relate God’s word to their world. When you do Bible studies or discipleship, contextualize what they are learning into their own situation.
The journey of reaching and serving young people is both fun and challenging. But like all things we do, we can always ask God for wisdom and for the grace to continue the journey.