Working with teenagers comes with a whole host of issues. I have dealt with everything from teens lying to my face, sneaking out to smoke in the bathroom, addictions, and struggles with suicide. Every year comes with a series of stories and adventures that keep teen ministry interesting.
All those adventures keep youth ministry interesting, but they are not the most challenging issue I have to deal with each year. The single biggest struggle is that teenagers only want to be entertained.
Whenever I talk to teens, who quit the youth group and ask them why they stopped I know what response I am going to receive. They will tell me something like, “It’s not that fun” or “A lot of it is boring.” Then I talk to parents, and they give me a similar response. “They just don’t enjoy it,” is the most common answer that I am given.
At first, I tried to do everything I could to make youth group fun and enjoyable. Every week was the most fun game I could find. The leaders and I would brainstorm for hours so that every minute of the group was exciting and memorable. This seemed to work a little, but the competition from the world was always better. TV, school, video games, sports and just about everything else seemed to be more fun no matter how much I planned. It was a battle the Church could just not win.
Here is the reality, our teens do not need more entertainment. They need to know God. They need to learn what the word of God says about life. They need to develop Christian friends who are walking the same path of faith. They need to get connected to mature Christian leaders who model faith. The most difficult part of youth ministry is convincing people that matters of the soul are essential.
The teens today are drowning in a sea of fun activities. At the same time, their spiritual struggles are growing. Words like depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and suicide are real problems for teenagers. They need to address the evil and sin that exists in the world and especially inside of their own soul. Teens, like adults, need what faith has to offer.
I no longer try to make youth group “the most fun hour of their week.” Now I am working to connect with the deepest needs of their heart. The work is challenging and frustrating, but when it works, it is the most important work in the world.